By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Aliens have landed: giant octopus-like creatures, known for wreaking havoc but fortunately contained in an “Infected Zone” that stretches across northern Mexico.
The United States has kept the aliens out only through the construction of a massive wall across the border. And if you’re not feeling any metaphorical ripples yet, just wait: The new sci-fi picture “Monsters” will explain them to you.
Produced on a low budget, “Monsters” has a simple enough dramatic structure. Two people must cross the Zona Infectada and reach the U.S. border without getting themselves destroyed in an alien attack.
Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist, eager to get some shots of the creatures; that’s why he’s in Mexico. Instead, he’s given the task of escorting his wealthy boss’ daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), safely home.
Using just the two main actors, and shooting in real Mexican locations that look credibly demolished and/or wild, director Gareth Edwards has the basis for a straightforward science fiction feature. He’s less interested in shock effects than in teasing out that main metaphor, which is that building walls along borders may damage countries more than alien attacks.
That’s a perfectly workable scenario, and last year’s “District 9” did a similar thing. But there, the allegory — a South African story of extraterrestrials segregated by a new kind of apartheid — was enlivened by wild humor and ingenious action.
Here, Edwards concentrates on a character study. But the characters are mostly drippy, despite the best efforts of the two leads (McNairy, who gave a nice performance in “In Search of a Midnight Kiss,” has a good offhand quality) and their dialogue tends to clunk.
In its final stretches, “Monsters” conjures up a spooky nighttime scene, in which the two wanderers finally come face to face, as it were, with the alien visitors. Here’s where the movie overreaches, going for a certain level of grandeur that it just can’t pull off.
The monsters, when we get to see them, are pretty cool and Edwards (a visual-effects specialist who created these visions on a very humble digital program) makes them look ghostly and dreamlike. Problem is, the movie around them isn’t quite urgent enough to make it count in the clutch.
Two people struggle to cross the “Infected Zone” south of the U.S. border with Mexico, where giant octopus-like aliens have been quarantined. The creatures are cool, but the film overreaches with its social metaphor and the main characters just aren’t compelling.
Rated: R for language, subject matter