93 min., rated R.
Warning: the sci-fi indie "Monsters" contains very few monsters. Even after we do get a glimpse of them, the film is surrounded by so much “character-driven” talky talk and hollow pretensions. The said monsters are aliens, which resemble octopi from H.P. Lovecraft's imagination, that reside on our planet in a quarantined area of Mexico known as the “Infected Zone.” Through title cards, we're told that six years ago, NASA launched a space probe that crashlanded into the Mexican jungle and the extraterrestrials expanded through human territory. Photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is in Central America to get photos of the creature aftermath, but gets a call from his publishing boss to find his daughter Sam (Whitney Able) and get her home to the walled-off United States safely. Needless to say, their journey home will be harder than expected.
With a next-to-nothing budget, "Monsters" is a well-made little movie that does show writer-director-cinematographer-production designer Gareth Edwards' resourceful skill for this guerrilla style of filmmaking. The effects are impressive for the fact that Edwards created them on his computer with basic software. And the desolate landscapes are beautiful. It's an intriguing premise too, but the film's spare treatment doesn't work up enough of the necessary urgency and tension. It's something of a road movie where not much really happens until the final 10 minutes. Edwards reportedly didn't intend for a social commentary on illegal immigration, but it's pretty on the nose, especially when the the two characters stare at the giant wall separating Central America from Texas and Andrew goes, “You know, it's different looking at America from the outside, in.”
Real-life husband and wife McNairy and Able are natural performers, although their stilted dialogue and uninvolving characters compete with us trying to connect with them. Andrew and Sam are drawn a little through their mumblecore-style conversation (he has a son at home and she has a fiancée that she doesn't seem too enthused about seeing). Andrew's arrogance just becomes annoying and there's little backstory to either being. Especially in the wake of other, better films like "The Mist," "Cloverfield," and "District 9," "Monsters" is too dull and uneventful, despite Edwards' best efforts for his first feature.