Let’s Do It in the Jungle

By: Joel Marino

The US has an odd penchant for seeing its biggest cities destroyed by monsters.

Case in point: the new Godzilla, which features the not-so-jolly green giant wreaking havoc on San Francisco. And while the sight of rampaging CGI behemoths destroying a city is always amusing, a change in scenery would be a way to spice things up in this long-term relationship with monster films.

Enter Monsters, a 2010 indie film that dropped the baddies in the Mexican jungle. The flick was the cinematic debut of Brit director Gareth Edwards—and if the name sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it in all the Godzilla ads. Yup, the novice filmmaker was given the reins of the latest ’Zilla flick solely on the strength of his first film.

Edwards’s savviest move in Monsters was not turning the titular fiends into the movie’s focus. Instead, the running time centers on American journalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and expat Samantha (Whitney Able) trying to cross back into the US after giant aliens have obliterated most of Mexico. Their interactions with the locals (all played by nonactors) consist of improvised dialogue full of cultural clashes, giving the horror film an oddly affecting cinéma vérité feel. One of the big emotional set pieces even comes with a political wink: the pair view a gargantuan wall set up around the border to keep out the “illegal aliens.”

But this being a monster movie, the bad guys do eventually show up. The creatures (designed and produced by Edwards on a $500,000 budget) are massive, spindly things that look like a crab omelet gone horribly wrong. They prowl through the Mexican jungle slaughtering anything from US Army troops to innocent children. Delaying their appearance for much of the movie helps make their final reveal a whole lot more awe-inspiring, particularly a nighttime shot of two tentacled giants performing a courtship dance over an evacuated town.

While Edwards seems to have moved on to (literally) bigger things, a sequel directed by another British first-timer is already on its way. Monsters: Dark Continent, premieres this September and moves the action to the Middle East, continuing the new franchise’s trend of exploring non-US decimation. It’s about time the monster genre stamped other pages in its passport.

LOGISTICS: Monsters, available now

Joel Marino is a NYC-based freelance writer and editor who enjoys traveling and saying “I told you so” as much as possible. When not writing, he spends his time on a never-ending quest to find the perfect empanada.