Giant octopod monstrosities have claimed a massive swatch of land on the border between the United States and Mexico. Both countries’ armed forces are battling nearly daily to keep the creatures at bay. Amidst the chaos of this multinational, world-shaking crisis, a photojournalist is tasked with escorting his publisher’s daughter from Mexico to America against an ever mounting raft of obstacles, both natural, man-made, and extraterrestrial.
This, Monsters, is your plot. The question then is this; what is your story? A plot is the basic summary of the details surrounding the events of a film. A story is the tale told within the structures of the plot, an emotional and thematic arc with a beginning middle and end. While it is true that the development of the relationship between your two main characters could serve as a story in a bare sense, it feels as though the intense amount of world-building you pull off deserves a bit more than just the romance between two people.
And world building does seem to be your strong suit. Your every scene is chock full of details that cue us into the history and impact of the creatures’ time on this earth. Graffiti and murals serve as a kind of ‘people’s history’ of the monsters’ invasion. Posters and prayer cards placed on memorials to the dead serve as reminds of the human toll of both the alien attacks and the military response. Damaged property and decimated military hardware give evidence to the struggle that never ends.
Unfortunately, all of this visual exposition serves its own purpose, and does not in any way inform the story of a man falling for a woman. These two characters would have fallen for one another in almost any circumstance, so to put them and their relationship at the forefront of a movie involving aliens and military skirmishes feels light a slightly wasted opportunity. The affection that grows between the two leads is palpable and real, an organic and relatable connection, but feels like an underwhelming centerpiece around which to build such a fully realized picture of alien encroachment.
Still, the more enlightened treatment of the aliens as a species and your commitment to detail is laudable in the face of the inanity and laziness that most films would allow given the same plot. The evocation of the creatures as an organism within an ecosystem is much more intellectually gratifying than simply using them as a giant, tentacled boogeyman.
Perhaps the aspect of you most worthy of celebration, though, is that you managed to achieve so much in terms of world-building and spectacle on such a limited budget. Usually, films use the idea of being ‘low budget’ as either a kind of indie badge of honor or a shield against which to deflect criticism related to quality. While your budget limitations are not entirely hidden – some visual effects are less-than-A-quality – you still treat every moment with care and integrity. Considering that your visual effects, script and direction came from the same person, this makes lends you a kind of artistic purity that buoys the impression one get of you.
I would definitely see you again, Monsters. I appreciated the care that went into your production, your relatable characters, and the believable nature of the relationships and interactions that take place between them. You do so much right that it is a shame that there still remains a small niggling feeling that something more could have pushed you from a simply promising film, into a full-blown, freshman effort classic.
Fondly and with admiration,
Brian J. Roan