An alien-invasion pic directed by a special-effects whiz with roots in British comedy. Whatever you’re expecting from the Sundance player Monsters, it’s wrong: Gareth Edwards’ DIY special-effects extravaganza is both lo-fi and low key, the subtlest film you’ve ever seen about deadly tentacle beasties that’ve left half of Mexico quarantined. The titular E.T.s only make sporadic appearances in Monsters, set well enough after the invasion that the rush is over. All that remains are pockets of chaos and a couple not-entirely-belligerent aliens to occasionally emerge from nowhere for quickly dissipated jolts.
No, the focus is on young paparazzo Andrew (Scoot McNairy), down in Mexico to snap a high-selling photo of our planet’s visitors. His plans go awry when his boss charges him with finding his do-gooder daughter Sam (Whitney Able) and escorting her across the border to safety. A couple orchestrated plot twists later and this rescue mission has turned into a bona fide road trip as our heroes take the long road to America while wrestling with feelings upon which they oughtn’t to act.
Monsters is a nifty idea in theory: Take a fumbling, non-Mumblecore Amerindie romance—say, Medicine for Melancholy, or the even more apt In Search of a Midnight Kiss, which also starred McNairy—relocate it to shot-on-the-fly Mexico, and add tentacled extraterrestrials. Like those films, Monsters adds a thick coat of sensitivity to a romance no more believable than the last Katherine Heigl vehicle. Andrew and Sam share a standard impossible love—she’s engaged and idealistic, he’s a skeezy rogue, although his amorality is hard to detect seeing as how he’s played by an actor without a disreputable bone in his body.
Luckily, the actors are upstaged by their surroundings. Edwards has a keen eye for locations; it doesn’t require an art director to turn Bumfuck, Mexcio into the ravaged post-apocalypse. And with roughly the budget of Birdemic, Edwards, who did the effects all by himself, has created aliens both wholly believable and achingly beautiful. Writhing elegantly, humming light and at one point getting into moany coitus, they put Monsters in the same unfortunate category as its mega-budgeted analogues: The best part are the F/X.