Monsters -- Film Review

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Very much in the aliens-among-us vein of a "District 9," Gareth Edwards' "Monsters" nonetheless makes its own distinct impression thanks to a finely tuned attention to atmospheric detail over broad sci-fi sensationalism.

Edwards, an Emmy-nominated visual effects editor making his feature directorial debut, puts his expertise to cost-effective use incorporating the film's squidlike otherworldly creatures sparingly but evocatively.

Although the tentative performances of his two human leads proves less satisfying, and the story's not-so-underlying sociological context can be hard to miss -- it takes place along the U.S.-Mexico border -- the overall picture still impresses.

Picked up by Magnet Releasing (Magnolia Pictures' genre division) after its world premiere at SXSW, "Monsters" could make a little noise when it invades theaters this Halloween.

Here's the setup: A NASA sample-collecting probe bringing back extraterrestrial organic matter has crashed upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere scattering its contents over lower North America.

Six years later, a vast area between Southern Mexico and the U.S. has been declared an infected zone as military from both countries wage a fruitless battle against the ginormous, rapidly reproducing creatures.

A photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) covering the ongoing "war" gets closer than anticipated when he escorts his boss' stranded daughter (Whitney Able) through the no-man's-land to the American border.

Along the way, in addition to echoes of "District 9," their trek brings to mind aspects of the likes of "Cloverfield" and "Anaconda," but despite the well-covered terrain, Edwards adds original touches to the genre, especially where production design is concerned. His use of weather-worn "infected zone" signs and other fading notices go far in setting up an established way of life while he admirably refrains from orchestrating those inevitable creature sightings for maximum (brass blaring) shock value.

Coming up short in the underplaying, on the other hand, are the performances of the leads, whose anemic characterizations have an alienating effect that likely wasn't intended. Although the plot required a certain amount of romantic/sexual tension between them, McNairy and Able fail to register a palpable spark, which is curious considering they were a real-life couple at the time "Monsters" was filming.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival (Magnet Releasing)
Production: Vertigo Films
Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Gareth Edwards
Producers: Allan Niblo, James Richardson
Music: Jon Hopkins
Editor: Colin Goudie
No rating, 97 minutes
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