I've been having a bad time of it lately. The cinema just isn't my friend. The Town, The Social Network and now Monsters, have all left me to pick up the cheque. Worryingly, prevailing critical acclaim has gone against me. This isn't a matter of; 'It's not you, it's me.' No, this is: 'It's you. All YOU!'
In many ways Monsters is the biggest slap in the face. The Town is Ben Affleck applying Good Will Hunting brotherhood/camaraderie, the social deprivation of the Boston that leads to crime from Gone Baby Gone and adds a dash of his own empowerment fantasy hard-man/ladies-man clichÃ© bullshit to the mix. The Social Network is Fincher at his most restrained and boring (think Zodiac minus the serial killer). It has all the visual inspiration of an episode of Eastenders.
Monsters, though, is something else.
The plot is equidistant between Cloverfield and District 9. Aliens landed some years ago around the U.S-Mexican border, this area is now walled off and is a no go. Once a year, for some reason these aliens get a bit frisky and try to penetrate the border. It's that time of year. Enter two charmless twentysomethings to begin to play out one of the most drab and poorly realised romances of cinema history, whilst trying to survive Monsterville.
There's a lot of travelling here as our couple try to cross the border through Monster land. Lord of the Rings amount of travelling in fact. Unlike LOTR, where one of the characters might whip a horse or dragon, the characters in Monsters are chauffeured almost everywhere. They hardly do anything active in the whole film. To be fair, they do go out of their way to make sure the jeep chauffer and the boat chauffer are co-ordinated on destination. Then the couple sit back, take a nap, snap a few photos and flirt a bit. Exciting stuff.
What grey matter writer/director Gareth Edwards saved on plot and characterisation must have gone into the design and execution of the Monsters. The Monsters must be great, right? Right? Wellâ€¦ the Monsters, in the film called Monsters, are not Monsters, no, they are Octopuses. No menace or personality, just waif-like, dead-eyed Octopuses, floating about the skyline like laboured Daddy Long Legs. The worst thing is the physics. The Octopus Monsters look weightless, they feel weightless. Whenever they appear on screen it is a non-event, as they never feel threatening. In fact they never appear to be doing anything. They are reminiscent of a drunk emerging from his local, stumbling about before catching his bearings, propped up against a wall, looking both ways down the street for ten minutes trying to remember which way is home. That's what the Monsters, in a film called Monsters are like. Shit. And they only get about 15 minutes of screen time.
The achievement appears to be that Monsters looks and feels like a sixty million dollar Hollywood movie though it was made on a shoestring. These monetary constraints clearly led to the sparse use of Monsters. Unfortunately, this is massively detrimental to the film. By pushing the Monsters into the background, the foreground is overwhelmed by a generic and dull love story played out by some of the most unsympathetic and one-dimensional characters in memory. The audience is robbed of anything akin to a cinematic event. The set pieces are few and display a lack of knowledge of cinematic drama, with no sense of timing or pacing or tension ever being developed. The audience are even robbed of the couples much deserved demise (even Cloverfield was savvy enough to let us see Brad and Chad All-star America get turned into monster munch).
Like lifestyle adverts for Orange phones or Nissan cars, Monsters plays it twee and easy. The film's climax is going for that emotional cathartic eruption, a suggestion of the mighty, and the omnipotent. When two of these Octopuses come together in a union of tentacles, with neon red liquid (blood? Semen?) pulsing through their translucent veins, intoning joyous moans, the gormless couple watch in 'awe' as they realise they've witnessed something magical and majestic; the vastness of the universe bearing down on them, a realisation of their insignificance. Then they kiss. Humans and Octopus aliens alike. Soon the Octopuses float away in opposite directions. For a second I wondered whether they knew each other beforehand, the Octopuses. Only for a second. The music soared with epic poignancy, the actor's eyes were wet, and the Monsters ejaculated red neon jam internally. Something profound was supposed to be taking place, but it looked pretty cheap to me.
So, unless Tron: Legacy is a work of utter genius, cinema in 2010 has done the dirty on me. Oh, and Inception was shit too.