Monsters, 2010, starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, written & directed by Gareth Edwards
What a curious little film! And one that must be damned with faint praise, because it is far too good and refreshing to dismiss as a bad film, and yet much too understated and unsatisfying to get excited about. At first I was pleased with how unlike a craptastic high budget hollywood sci-fi it is, but I grew disappointed with just how far Edwards swung the pendulum away from action. Is it too much to ask that my science fiction be both smart and a little exciting? I’m afraid the only actual story here is Sam’s shallow emotional journey: “how the aliens showed me I really just don’t want to get married.” The invasion is exotic scenery.
Monsters was just a little too uneventful for comfort, and worse still is that the characters have surprisingly little to say about what is going on around them (which reminded me unfavourably of Spielberg’s execrable take on War of the Worlds, in which Tom Cruise had almost literally not a single thing to say). I loved seeing them react uncomfortably to eerie, isolated signs of invasion disaster scattered around the landscape, but I also wanted them to say more about it, especially once they actually got into much closer contact with aliens than most travellers in the region.
(Warning! Spoilers ahoy — stop here if you haven’t seen it.)
If I was having that experience you couldn’t shut me up. I’m not saying the movie needed chatterbox characters to succeed, but come on: when they get to America and find that the monsters have breached the wall, they don’t comment at all. They don’t speculate. When they phone home, they don’t ask what happened or how far the monsters have gotten. They don’t even seem bothered, really.
There’s quiet, and then there’s inert.
The understatement continues right to the end: yes, yes, the big squiddy aliens make sweet tentacle love to each other, all very thoughtful and moody, and I really do want that sensibility in my science fiction. But if I’m going to go without action, I need characters with more interesting problems.