Horror and science fiction genres have long been used as metaphors for problems and issues of the real. Our fear of the dark, our concerns over long wars, issues of poverty and strife, and our possible demise can be explored in many ways more readily through genre film. With that in mind, science fiction films of late have been exploring the more human side of the present and the future. Monsters is set in the not-too-distant future. A space probe carrying samples from an alien planet crashed in Mexico; six years on, the northern half of the country is an infected zone, with seemingly little progress being made by authorities to contain the species that have evolved. In fact, it has become a way of life. These octopus-like creatures are part of the new vernacular and semiotics, and while many Mexicans have fled, some stay and simply deal with the new reality.
Andrew Calder is a photographer. Samantha, The daughter of his boss is stuck in southern Mexico, and he is charged with getting her back to the US. Of course, the journey does not go as planned, and the two find themselves in imminent danger. But the aliens are merely a symbol of a greater reality. The West frequently is at war or has some military presence in countries for long periods of time (Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan) with little understanding of the long-term consequences for the resident population. Soldiers can go home; civilians cannot. They must continue to eke out an existence in countries that have been all but decimated. These are people who are used to monsters, be they alien or human.
The film is set up as both intimate and epic; this is a worldwide problem reduced to visage through a few lost souls. Andrew is trying to take his prize-winning photograph that will secure his career; Sam has obvious sympathy for the people who must live in this environment, and does not enjoy her status as “poor little rich girl.” Playing the camera close and in hand, director Gareth Edwards does not leave his subjects alone for a second. As Andrew and Sam travel overland through the hot zone to try and reach the new “great wall” built to keep out the aliens (yes, a pretty obvious metaphor, but it works perfectly,) and their situation becomes more desperate, they are as stripped away as the land and people around them. By dealing with such long-term trauma as oppose to most science fiction films that only deal in the immediate, Edwards is asking serious question as to the benefits to the West of war, how we treat those in countries with less, if this was happening in the West would the aliens have been eradicated, or are we content to let tragedy happen as long as it doesn’t happen to us. While the ending is more than a little too precious, it is a film worthy of multiple viewings and serious contemplation.