The opening title cards introduce the premise: Six years ago, an exploratory space probe carrying samples of alien life forms back to Earth crashed in northern Mexico. In the film’s present, the U.S./Mexico border region has become a quarantined “infected zone,” inhabited by the 30-foot-tall squid-like creatures. American photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is tasked by his publisher to escort the boss’ daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), from a Central American vacation back home—unfortunately, during a time of year when the aliens are migrating, and the only way into the United States is through the most dangerous territory.
Edwards tries to build a connection between his two central characters. There’s not much crackle to the performances by Able and McNairy, though, and the back story of each—she’s ambivalent about her impending marriage; he’s separated from his young son—never clicks. The energy instead has to come from subtle mounting tension, as Monsters effectively keeps the critters in the background. Edwards drops in plenty of great details showing life at a time when this visitation has become an accepted part of life, like a cartoon public-service announcement teaching kids how to put on their gas masks, or a nature documentary discussing the aliens’ mating habits.
Monsters’ admirably minimalist narrative contains surprisingly few action beats. Yet it also becomes almost entirely about comfortable Anglos forced to make an arduous journey across the border, during which they eventually have an eye-opening close encounter. Perhaps those who are less allergic to heavy-handed allegory might connect with such a story. “It’s different looking at America from the outside,” one of our protagonists says. In this case, it’s not entirely different enough.
Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy