'Monsters' (R)

In Monsters, extraterrestrials have once again become permanent residents of our planet (like they were in District 9). Sequestered within a region of Mexico known as the “infected zone” and kept out of the United States by a giant fence along the border, the aliens, which resemble 10-story octopi who walk on their tentacles, continue to breed within their contained area and clash frequently with humans, who use military weaponry on them (like they did in King Kong or Godzilla).

Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a news photographer who has just arrived at the zone, hopes to snap some photos of the creatures, which sell for big bucks at magazines. But his boss orders him to forget the assignment and escort his daughter Sam (Whitney Able), who managed to wander into the cordoned-off territory, back to safe American soil. Initially, Andrew pouts and frets over having to play babysitter. But gradually, he and Sam start finding romantic common ground, even though she’s already engaged to be married.

Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, Monsters is a small budget production, but the special effects are of big-budget quality. For much of the film, the aliens are only glimpsed briefly via news reports and video cameras (ala Cloverfield), and one sequence, in which Andrew, Sam and their Mexican guides are attacked in the jungle, is a deft piece of filmmaking. But those are scant.

Too much of Monsters simply reminds you of other, better movies, and the shaky performances by McNairy and Able make investing in their budding romance difficult: You don’t really care one way or the other. Edwards uses the couple’s exodus from Mexico as a clunky, heavy-handed metaphor for the dangers of illegal immigration (“It’s different looking at America from the outside”) and the picture’s title is misleading . It’s more of a reference to the people who exploit the crisis for monetary gain than the aliens, who are kept off-screen for long stretches of film.

You do get a good look at the giant E.T.s during the film’s climax, which unfortunately happens to be one of the silliest, most misguided attempts at compassion I have ever seen in a sci-fi/horror picture – or a movie of any kind, really. You can see what Edwards was striving for with Monsters, and there are brief sequences when he achieves the intended effect. But the film’s relentless lack of originality, combined with its cadre of scary, price-gouging Mexicans, result in a seriously confused message.

Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able.

Writer-director: Gareth Edwards.

Producers: Allan Niblo, James Richardson.

A Magnolia Pictures studios release. Running time: 97 minutes. Vulgar language, brief nudity, sexual situations, brief violence, adult themes. Opens Friday In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.


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