More Killer Squids From Outer Space, Please

10/28/2010 4:00 AM |


Directed by Gareth Edwards

Basically, Monsters is a remake of It Happened One Night—if instead of Depression-era America Clark Gable had had to traverse King Kong‘s Skull Island. And Frank Capra had been a moron. Like Gable, Scoot McNairy plays a journalist escorting a wealthy brat (Whitney Able) with an overbearing father across the country. Except here, that country is Mexico, and it’s been infested with killer aliens.

Yes, the border region between the U.S. and its southern neighbor has become the “infected zone,” overrun with cephalopod-like creatures after a UFO crash-landed, contaminating the landscape with, literally, “bad seeds”. It’s an almost-irresistible gimmick: an ambling, opposites-attract romance set against a science-fiction backdrop—Before Sunrise confined within the electric fences of Jurassic Park. But writer-director Edwards screws it up by failing to foreground something more tantalizing than his extraterrestrial-ridden dystopia—by failing to tease the audience using anything resembling insight, intelligence, drama or even romance. Instead, he front-and-centers two Ugly Americans who’d be better off dead. 

But maybe the most frustrating thing about Monsters is that it never makes you wonder to whom its title refers. Edwards throws a lot of Big Ideas at the screen to see what’ll stick: bits on photojournalism ethics, whether a border wall protects or imprisons those who build it, whether it’s American provocation that makes its enemies a threat. But all of them slip right off. This is no immigration parable, no zeitgeist engager: it’s a movie about grating gringos that ought to be about killer squids from outer space.

Opens October 29