Monsters posits a world in which extraterrestrial animals wind up in Northern Mexico. US and Mexican authorities establish a “quarantine zone,” in which they use chemical and conventional weapons to try to eliminate enough creatures so they don’t gain a foothold in our ecosystem. The film convincingly creates and ages this world, making us feel that this isn’t a new phenomenon and that the two governments have been fighting the monsters for quite some time.
Our audience surrogates in this alternate world are a news photographer and his charge, the boss’s (adult, and rather fetching) daughter. They’re trapped on the wrong side of the quarantine zone, you see, and they need to get to America. Why they don’t just catch a commercial flight from Mexico City is never explained, but just play along – Monsters is trying to tell a story, here.
What happens? Well, it’s kind of a mix of It Happened One Night and Sin Nombre, with the two Americans hiring a gang of coyotes to escort them through the quarantine zone and across the US border. Is it good? It’s fine, I suppose, but I never bought into it. This isn’t because the film makes Northern Mexico look like Central America, and it isn’t because it places a Mayan pyramid within walking distance of the Texas border. It’s because the movie couldn’t decide if it wanted to be Apocalypse Now, any of a dozen movies about illegal immigration, or the aforementioned Frank Capra movie. And you know what? I could have accepted that if it weren’t for the film’s big, climactic moment, the moment in which we’re supposed to feel awed at the aliens’ beauty and empathy with their plight as unwanted interlopers. See, all I saw were creatures of Lovecraftian horror that needed to be eliminated, even if it meant the irradiation of all of Northern Mexico and much of South Texas to make that happen.
I can credit Monsters for originality and craft. Its aliens look alien and its world looks convincing. But in the end, it’s just a road movie with an unsuccessful climax. Pass this one by.