04th Nov2014

Mayhem 2014: ‘Monsters – Dark Continent’ Review

by Dan Woolstencroft

Stars: Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, Sofia Boutella, Kyle Soller, Nicholas Pinnock, Parker Sawyers, Michaela Coel, Rajinikanth, Jesse Nagy | Written by Tom Green, Jay Basu | Directed by Tom Green

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Back in 2010, the Mayhem Festival hosted a screening of Gareth Edwards’ micro budget debut Monsters. Edwards was in attendance and took part in both a Q&A, and held a “masterclass” session in which he discussed the approach he’d taken to creating such an ambitious picture on such a low budget. It was a fascinating insight, and a privilege to listen to such an energetic, enthusiastic young director. Flash forward to 2014, and things are looking very different for that young director. He’s already released his updated Godzilla – a film which shares a significant amount of DNA with Monsters – and is moving on to both a Godzilla sequel, and an as yet untitled Star Wars spin off feature. Not bad at all.

It was probably inevitable that Monsters would spawn a sequel. The general concern upon announcement was that it would fail to live up to the spirit of the original film, and would become just another generic alien shoot ‘em up. There was also a concern that there isn’t really an obvious way to continue the story in the original film. Monsters: Dark Continent - note the lack of a numeric designation in the film’s title — doesn’t really try to be a direct sequel. It’s a second offering in the universe created by the original film, and if the first film was a romance or road trip set against the backdrop of mysterious alien creatures, the second is a flat out war movie.

The titular monsters are once again a backdrop. The story begins in Detroit and introduces a rough and ready group of friends who are about to head off to a tour of duty in the infected Middle East. The US have taken it upon themselves to bomb the “Goliaths” — the hulking, slow moving manifestations of the alien contaminant from the first movie — in order to reduce the damage caused by their unending march through settlements and towns. The high number of civilian casualties caused by bombing has become too much to bear, and a violent insurgency has arisen, opposed to the bombing of the so called Monsters. It’s this insurgency that forms the main conflict for our heroes : despite the characters themselves misplaced anger towards the creatures, their main threat is man itself.

The performances are for the most part excellent, albeit with some unfortunate accent slippage here and there. Some of the emotional hooks don’t quite pay off the way I would have liked, the script didn’t effectively endear the majority of the characters to me, which lessens the impact of events later in the film. But I was engaged enough with key characters to make things work. It’s a little disappointing that after the first film’s magnificent characterisation the second can’t quite achieve the same result again.

What follows is reminiscent of The Hurt Locker, or Blackhawk Down, with elements of Apocalypse Now (or perhaps more accurately its original source material) creeping in later; it’s a sandblasted visceral Middle Eastern war movie, with superb visual and audio accompaniment. Director Tom Green manages to blend scenes of violent conflict with wonderful imagery of silhouetted Goliath’s striding through the desert, in just one example of the great visual effects work.

And while there are a handful of notable sequences containing the Monsters, anyone expecting this to play Aliens to the first film’s Alien is going to be disappointed. Just as Edwards’ film was a slow burn that polarised audiences, Green’s film will be no less divisive. There are three definite sections to the film; the first loud and obnoxious in Detroit, the second violent, tense, and visceral in the thick of the conflict, and the final third a slow paced descent into despair heading to the film’s conclusion. This is not an upbeat movie. The message here seems to be that the human race are ultimately deeply unpleasant, and will go out of their way to maim, kill, or destroy anything they don’t understand. Including themselves.

Monsters: Dark Continent is a film with the same template as the original: tell a story from a genre not obviously linked with science fiction, take your time, and feed a little more into the mythos of these strange alien creatures. Given that we’ve now had a romance, and a war movie, I’m curious to see which genre is selected for the third tale in this universe.

Being a fan of the original is no guarantee that you’re going to like Monsters: Dark Continent. Regardless, it’s an at times beautiful, gritty, and impressive entry in the Monsters universe.

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