‘Monsters’ – An Eerie Sci-Fi Romance That Lets Imagination Fill the Horror

The first thing that I can say right out of the starting gate is that I have yet to see District 9. I intend to, but it just hasn’t been on my radar screen yet. I can say this, though, and that is that Gareth Edward’s Monsters may not have happened without District 9 and it’s success. You can also throw in a little bit of Cloverfield in as well. Aliens living among us. Not just aliens, but big giant tentacled aliens that remind this reviewer of something out of Lovecraft.

But, I digress. Monsters is actually more about the romance that slowly blooms between a photojournalist and the boss’ daughter that he reluctantly agrees to get out of the ‘infected zone’ and back to the safety of the United States. Now before you think ‘Oh, great. When Harry Met Sally disguised as a horror/sci-fi hybrid film’ I can assure you it is nothing like that. The two of develop a friendship and finally a romance out of a need for each other and to help the other stay alive long enough to make it to the United States and safety.

In Gareth Edwards’ evocative sci-fi drama ‘Monsters’, otherworldly creatures are not the only monsters, as two strangers forge an unlikely romance against the backdrop of an “infected zone” quarantined after a NASA probe brought extraterrestrial life to Earth. More intimate character study than special effects extravaganza, this nuanced gem uses subtlety and suggestion to immerse us in an earth made unfamiliar.

When photojournalist Andrew reluctantly agrees to escort wealthy Samantha out of Mexico to the safety of the U.S. border, their journey traverses the region cordoned off after the probe crash six years prior. Though the enigmatic aliens rarely appear onscreen, their presence looms. Estimates say the creatures killed thousands that first night, but their intentions remain a mystery.

In the absence of bombastic action sequences, we share the characters’ watchful unease, seeing threats in every swaying tree at night. Our imaginations summon the horrors lurking in the shadows. Edwards maximizes his micro-budget through striking sound design and eerie framing, the negative space humming with menace.

The titular monsters are secondary to this and honestly don’t make too much of an appearance until the last one-fourth of the film. However, just as the title Alien or Aliens can be taken two ways (Ripley and crew were not on Earth, so doesn’t that make her the alien and not the other way around?), the same can be said for the title of this film as there are subtle examples of human monsters.

But amidst the tension blossoms an unlikely romance between Andrew and Samantha, mutual wariness giving way to affection. Their subtle performances convey equal parts wariness and longing. Together they brave the unknown and rediscover their humanity.

With emotional depth and restraint propelling the drama, ‘Monsters’ lingers like a haunting fever dream. Edwards redefines monsters, finding uneven beauty where unease lurks. Monsters will not blow you away with Armageddon-like action or the aforementioned Aliens-like excitement. It’s too sophisticated for the former and it would be pointless for it to be like the latter. What it does do is keep you on the edge of your seat by not delivering the big money shot. Instead it does what a lot of films think that we aren’t capable of:

It leaves it to our imaginations.