A few years ago, the man and I watched a little indie film called Monsters. This film followed the journey of a photojournalist who is enlisted to travel to Mexico to retrieve his boss’ wayward daughter. Seems she’s supposed to be getting married in the near future, but is having cold feet—even if she really doesn’t want to come right out and say she is.
The shadow that hovers over our two travelers is the threat from, well, the Monsters. They’re essentially alien life that came to our planet by way of a crashed interstellar probe 6 years prior. These tentacled creatures roam parts of South America, posing a real threat to anyone who travels by night. They’re attracted to light, and can be quite destructive—to man and machine—while on the prowl.
The special effects in this movie were very well done, the writing, acting, and pacing were fantastic. It was done on a shoe-string budget, with only a handful of crew and actors. It was an enjoyable film, and we still discuss it. (Highly recommend seeing this, obviously! I think it’s currently streaming on Netflix.)
With me so far? Keep in mind how much we enjoyed this first film as you read on.
A few weeks ago, the man and I were in the mood for some good ol’ fashioned monster movie mayhem. So we perused Netflix to see what was streaming, and found Monsters: Dark Continent. This is apparently a sequel to that indie film we love, so we decided to settle in and get our tentacle-fueled creature feature.
We were wrong. So, so wrong.
One would think, given the fact that the word “monsters” is in the title, and they’re heavily represented on the poster, that there would actually be, you know, MONSTERS in the actual film. I guess if you want to get technical, there were. In the background. Acting more as scenery and momentary distraction than full-fledged adversary.
A more accurate description of this movie should be “Kids from Detroit go to war and fight Middle East insurgents. Oh, and there are monsters. Occasionally. Way, way in the distance. You may want to squint.”
The supposed premise of this movie is that it has been 10 years since these creatures appeared on Earth, and they’ve essentially made a nuisance of themselves by being big, lumbering things that destroy buildings. (And that’s pretty much it.) The US Army has been called to the Middle East to help control the creatures, but their air strikes tend to cause a lot of collateral damage to the local population. Insurgents aren’t very happy about ‘Merica’s sloppy pest control, and have taken up arms against the troops.
Now, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad premise, if the threat from both monster and man were equal. It’s not. The insurgents are the real threat to our intrepid group’s continued existence, and we’re lucky to occasionally glimpse monsters slowly migrating in the background.
Instead of seeing close interaction with the creatures, and learning about how they survived and what’s happened since the first movie, we’re treated to extended (unnecessary) scenes of “life on base” and listening to the awful, awful writing that’s supposed to endear these people to us.
Utter failure, that.
Anyway, the team is sent out to patrol and spy on suspected smugglers out in the desert (or something—honestly, I was starting to fade in and out from boredom by this point). Things go a bit pear-shaped, and they have a largely uneventful run-in with a creature. It was drawn by their shouting, and actually seemed more surprised than anything when it discovered them and started getting shot at.
Not really seeing the threat from the title characters.
Anyway, soon after this nocturnal altercation, the group receive orders to head out on a rescue mission (for a typical “squad gone missing” tripe), deep within the “Infection Zone”.
Okay then. Now we’ll see some monster action!
Wrong. Instead our group is ambushed by insurgents, fairly early in their quest, and we have extended scenes of gunfire, lost limbs, complete freak-outs (from men who supposedly had already served 2 years), and what’s left of our oh-so-interesting group getting captured.
Hmm, seems to be something missing. Lemme see . . .
Oh yeah. No monsters. In fact, you could re-edit this entire film to remove all monster images and references and it would not change the plot at all. It’s a war movie with very light monster elements.
Don’t get me wrong. War movies aren’t bad. I like them if done right. But I wasn’t expecting a war movie. I was expecting the creatures to be more of a driving force in the film–akin to Aliens (my fave of the franchise). A main obstacle, or real threat. These things did NOTHING but wander the desert, uttering deep growls and grunts, and waving their long tentacle appendages for no apparent reason. They were no threat, unless you were in a building they happened to knock over.
Now let’s talk about the acting. It wasn’t bad, per se, and with a better script, it may have been the saving grace of the film. But the characters themselves were unlikable, and came across as uninteresting stereotypes. I didn’t care about anyone. We’re treated to a long, long monologue at the beginning that describes how close these guys from Detroit are, and how they essentially hate their neighborhood and their lives growing up. Okay. Then it just keeps going on. And on. And on. I found it unnecessary and rather dull.
Not to mention there’s a (completely unnecessary) scene wherein a small monster and pit bull are made to fight one another. Needless to say the monster wins, and we’re treated to the oh-so-lovely sight and sounds of a pit bull being killed. Not a great way to keep your audience, movie. Seriously.
Oh, and then there’s a (looooong) sex and drug party before they left for the Middle East to (supposedly) fight the monsters. We fast-forwarded past this. We get it—they’re young, tough, and ready to leave their sucky lives behind to go out and kill some monsters. We don’t need a full third of the movie dedicated to shoving that down our throats.
I’ve read some reviews that claimed the whole thing was to illustrate that we humans were the true monsters and it was all done as some sort of psycho-analytical piece to show how we react in times of war. I call bull on that. Maybe I’m missing out on the deeper psychological issues or something, but it just didn’t strike me as that deep.
For one thing, the characters would have more depth to them if that truly were the case. They were all very 2 dimensional to me, and their personalities and dialog were way over the top—this one’s the “funny” guy, this one’s the “joe average”, this one’s the “Army guy missing his daughter”, here’s the “family man who just had a baby” . . . They’re all pretty thin on real character. Yawn.
Another thing is the monsters would have had a more entwined role if they were being used as an symbol for man’s deeper violence and inhumane acts. As noted above, they just wandered around the desert, pretty much just doing their thing. I got no sense of threat or danger from them, unless you bothered them or were in their way.
The way I see it, the director wanted to make a war movie, and he scammed some investment company for the budget to do so by claiming this was a sequel to a better movie. He suckered the investment company, and he suckered unsuspecting viewers like me with this very flimsy tie to the original.
I want my 2 hours back, dammit.