Sunday, July 3, 2011

Monsters - Reconsidered

Netflix still sez... 2010 R 93 minutes
Six years after aliens invaded Earth, a security force maintains tenuous control in the Infected Zone straddling the U.S.-Mexican border. Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, is documenting this war-torn area when he's interrupted by an unexpected rescue mission. Samantha (Whitney Able), daughter of a media mogul who just happens to be his boss, needs an escort home, and Andrew reluctantly takes on the job.

The 73rd Virgin retreats and sez... Maybe I was distracted and watching out of the corner of my eye, or maybe just irritated by the minor distraction of open borders polititics, but for some reason I saw this as a 3-star "tolerable low-energy monster movie with limited but sometimes effective special effects and interesting atmosphere and acting".  A few weeks later after mentioning to my wife that she might enjoy it more, we watched it again and the effect was very different. The beginning is straight out of the "Iraq War is a downer playbook", but is effective nonetheless.

The hero is still stupid, but very well played by Scoot McNairy. If McNairy is partly responsible for the dialogue then he's partly responsible for the only major downside of this experience. The heroine, played by one Whitney Able, aside from an unlikely third world trekking outfit, is suitably somber and emotional without being a typically brainless heroine.

Otherwise, this is true art-house monster flickery. The producers, apparently for very little dinero, manage to do the most important thing in any sci-fi/horror movie, that is, create a convincing alternate reality, no matter how silly the premise, and move the story along. See below how they drop a quick Spanish-language public service announcement about wearing a respirator when the jets fly over, but still manage to move the story along with dialog.

My previous review also said, "If Wim Wenders remade Paris, Texas - with monsters, it might look like this." What I missed is that Wenders wouldn't care about moving the story along. This story keeps moving, slowly at times, but manages many nice flourishes that make the pace seem worthwhile. In one of the best scenes the script does a great job of changing the vibe by having the main character say "the vibe just changed", and then using what was probably an existing "Day of the Dead" celebration, and with clever editing, turning it into a believably mournful display of the havoc wrought by the monsters.

Anyone travelling in Latin America has experienced the rapacious ticket-counter dude and here he is beautifully played, and again, advances the story. No wasted exposition. You learn it all from signs and brief conversation.

Later on our hero displays his newly developed soul by deciding to cover a dead child rather than photograph it.

Finally they pass through a destroyed suburb (thank you Galveston) to their final nighttime "aliens sex at the gas station" scene (not included here), which one must admit, is pretty original.

The ending circles back around to the beginning Pulp Fiction-style and we're left to speculate what happens to these characters we've been observing for 90 minutes. A year from now, this might be 5 sheep. For now it is a slightly holey story, beautifully done.

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