10 Critical Thoughts About… Monsters

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Highly specific observations on the low-budget paranormal thriller billed as "this year's District 9."


Monsters is set in a not-so-distant future, after much of North America has been invaded by squid-like aliens; they reside in a walled-off region known as the Infected Zone. Sam is a girl stranded on the Mexican side of the hostile territory; Kaulder is a photojournalist assigned to bring her back to the heavily guarded United States.

1. Don't miss the first minute of this movie.
Seriously, don't be late (your friend hates defending that open seat anyway) and pay close attention. At first, it might seem like the movie's initial chaotic minute is an inconsequential flurry of loud noises that exists simply to set the mood, but, as you'll find toward the end of the movie, it lends the often-flat story some much needed emotional texture.

2. Why doesn't Kaulder know Spanish?
His job is to go south of the border every year to take pictures of an annual alien migration, yet Kaulder speaks about as much Spanish as a toddler with a Dora the Explorer backpack. Maybe it's supposed to tell us something about his character, but it seems unrealistic and a tad lazy. Of course, his damsel-in-distress knows the language, which makes their exotic journey way less awkward.

3. Sam is the boss' daughter.
Except for maybe your best friend's sister, which usually implies some sort of betrayal, there's nobody hotter than the boss' daughter. As we're repeatedly reminded, Kaulder works for an important-sounding publication run by Sam's dad, so we know that any sexual tension between the two must be categorized as just a little wrong. Which makes it a little more awesome.

4. Like all women, Sam loves photography.
Am I right? Ever since the dawn of Facebook, girls have listed "photography" as an interest on their profiles. So when Sam needs to be rescued, she's lucky to find that a photojournalist is her hero. Every time Kaulder whips out his long-lens camera to capture the tragic aftermath of a disaster or the playful children of a rural village, Sam gazes at him with an affectionate smile that seems to say, "I'm so glad you're not a real-estate developer."

5. If you have to shout a name over and over, you could do worse than "Kaulder."
In any movie featuring a leading character who frequently wanders off alone to investigate unusual sounds, that character's name must be shouted by other characters. A lot. "Kaulder!" has got to be at least 40% of the script, but it's okay, because Kaulder is a pretty cool name.

6. Lower-back tattoos look weird on guys.
And Kaulder's is especially unfortunate. You'll see.

7. Thank goodness aliens can glow in the dark.
The aliens in this movie mostly come out at night (mostly). Night can apparently get incredibly dark in the thick of Mexico — dark enough to disable the viewer from seeing anything, which can get annoying, considering that the viewer paid money to see something. So we're very fortunate that the aliens are self-illuminating. If not for this unique twist of biophysiology, we would probably have never known what the hell was going on.

8. This movie isn't really about monsters.
Yes, yes, I know — almost all movies about 'monsters' are really about society. But what I'm saying is that this movie, billed by some as 'this year's District 9,' barely even features its aliens at all. On the plus side, while supernatural thrillers usually involve heavy-handed commentary on The Way We Live Now, here that's merely a backdrop. Even the idea that the U.S. built a wall to keep out Mexican aliens is treated lightly. This prompted one critic to call the movie 'mumblefield,' which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

9. I wish people in movies would stop saying, "No, I mean, [repeat previous sentence]."
"Sam, what are you doing?" Kaulder asks. Sam answers in plain language. "No," says Kaulder. "I mean, what are you doing?" And instantly, she knows what he really means, and so do we (though we already had our suspicions). Sam herself successfully employs this method later: "Thanks. No, I mean, thanks." Watch, now I'll do it: "You should write better dialogue. No. I mean, you should write better dialogue."

10. Love is universal.
Literally, it seems. You know those big, supposedly scary aliens? In the end, the movie doesn't leave much to the viewer's imagination; its interesting premise ultimately gives way to the sight of two glowing space-squids enjoying a cuddle. So maybe, just maybe… they're not the real monsters after all? (See #8.)