I think "Monsters" might be the perfect screenplay, a prime example of literary (meaning character-driven) storytelling. One of those movies that film-lovers can use to justify their dollars spent at the multiplex, their hours wiled away in front of the television searching for that kind of internal emotional movement/morality fable that only a really great movie can provide.
I like to call them "message" movies. Their intent is usually obvious, but not so much so that it's banging you over the head with a frying pan. The message of "Monsters" is really a question. Any truly great book, essay or film should leave the reader or viewer thinking. Great stories should expand or open something in our minds and "Monsters" leaves you asking, who are the real monsters? The film says more about humanity (on the whole and with the individual characters) than it does about the fictional and fantastic squid-like extraterrestrials that plague the planet the way that kudzu takes over streetlamps and sidewalks during the summer.
It sounds funny to say, but I haven't been this enraptured in a film of this genre since "Jurassic Park". That seems funny to say, because though both films have helpless humans running through the jungle from giant creatures, they couldn't be more different. "Monsters" is all about the characters, "Jurassic Park" is more about the plot, the scenes...and those beautiful dinosaur animatronics that I still geek out over.
"Monsters" gives us long stretches of silence instead of over-expository dialogue. "Monsters" gives us bits and pieces of background information and leaves us to piece together the puzzle instead of serving it to us on a silver platter. The result? A careful and focused attention-grabbing movie. The film draws you in, and occasionally makes you hold your breath by accident.That's the power of good writing.
In one of the more suspenseful and sad scenes after a particularly brutal attack, I looked at my students' faces. They were all completely still and staring at the screen, nobody was moving. Or even sleeping! (An even bigger triumph in my class...where when the lights go out, it's tough to keep them from nodding off. Hey, they're college students, I can sympathize.) As soon as the scene cut, everyone readjusted in their chairs and I heard the entire room literally take a sharp intake of air and then let out a controlled sigh. This movie had their attention, whether they liked it or not.
PLOT is actually made up of two elements. (And I learned this from reading Vivian Gornick.) Plot is the situation and the story. The situation is what we usually think of as "plot". It's the details. In "Monsters", the situation is that a young freelance photographer must take a detour on his photography assignment, one he's been waiting for all his life, to rescue the boss' daughter from what is known as The Infected Zone. This is where extraterrestrials (more animal than what probably springs to mind) have landed on Earth and are now taking over the planet's ecosystem. That's the situation.
But the story is something entirely different. The story is what the situation brings out of the characters. What does this adventure bring out in the two of them, how do they relate, what do they discover? On a larger scale, what does the human reaction to these extraterrestrials say about the world? How do we react to them and why? The story is full of allegorical potential and I'd be willing to bet that there are as many different interpretations to what the movie is really "about" as there are people who have watched it. Horror is actually a great genre for sending a message. If George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" was about our obsession with consumer culture, then "Monsters" is about our age of paranoia related to...well...anything really. Immigration, education, or any hot button issue that gets discussed on the talking head political Sunday shows. This movie is about "Us vs. Them".
This is where "Monsters" soars. The writing invites you into the story. "What do you think?" it wants to know. You have to participate in this story, read it like...well...a book.
On top of that, it's just plain beautiful. Like "Be Kind, Rewind" or "American Movie", the film can at times feel slow and meandering. Any film that tries to do something truly unique may be off-putting or confusing at first. But all of the threads weave together in the end to leave you with strong conclusions and emotions of your own. When I watch it, and that's twice now, I feel emotional. I feel the need to perform some act of compassion. I have to hug my husband. And it sort of makes me want to sell some of my belongings...can't exactly explain that one I guess. The point is, you walk away feeling something. The half-life and emotional impact of this movie lingers long after the credits roll. The movie, though fictional, leaves you with internal questions you simply have to answer.
If you haven't seen it, watch the preview below and give it a shot. It's the perfect mixture of think-piece and thriller. I've been so burned out on "let's watch the world explode" movies that I have gone out of my way to avoid "Battle: Los Angeles" and other disaster movies like it. But this one is worth it, this one is redemptive and oddly positive, the definition of an efficient screenplay, an example of what the "run and hide" genre can really do and above all else...fun to watch.