Vic’s Review – “Monsters: Dark Continent” (2015)

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What’s it About?

Ten years on from the events of Monsters, and the ‘Infected Zones’ have now spread worldwide. In the Middle East a new insurgency has begun.

Monsters: Dark Continent”

Directed by Tom Green

By Vic

Put a Bullet in a Monster. That was supposed be our war. Better know your enemy.”

In 2010, Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) directed a small, indie sci-fi sleeper for roughly 15 million named “Monsters.” It was a low key and sparse creature feature where Edwards decides to tell a story that is more about the characters and their development, than say, the monsters themselves. Using his minimal budget really well, Edwards successfully makes “Monsters” look and sound way more bigger than it could have been afforded to be. Using an exotic local and shooting in a docu-cinema verite style, the movie had less a feel of a true and visceral monster movie and more like a type of art house fare with a unique back-story.

In this light and regard, it worked for many and the movie has become a bit of a cult hit on the home video market and the movie has garnered a pretty solid rep for it’s inventive-ness and minimalism. In “Monsters,” Edwards made a romantic and interesting film about exploration and immigration using the alien monsters, on earth, as a bizarre backdrop to tell his story. If nothing else, “Monsters” claims to be an incidental affair using octopi alien nasties as an after-thought in the proceedings.

Well, it’s 2015 and Vertigo Pictures along with director Tom Green (Misfits, Blackout) with producer Scoot McNairy (who starred in the first film) and Executive Producer Edwards, bring us “Monsters: Dark Continent” which takes place 10 years after the events in the first film. The movie sets up efficiently, that the infected zones are now spread out all over the world and especially in the Middle East as a result, a band of insurgents have started to cause some trouble and despite a band of soldiers being dispatched to take care of them, there are also monsters in the area to thwart the mission as well.

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The insane task, which is a bit of a stretch to wrap one’s head around, falls to a group of professionals (so we think) from Detroit. The film’s beginning establishes a narrative from Michael Parkes (Sam Keeley), who describes how bombing the monsters abroad has created so many rebels and that they get in the way of eliminating the monsters. He discusses, as we see a lone figure about to assassinate an insurgent, Sgt. Frater (Johnny Harris), Years: 17 Tours: 8, who he calls a “Lion.”

This little bit of intrigue and introduction is an appropriate set up for Green’s film which, from the onset, feels like a political war drama peppered with signs of a monster flick only hinted at with quick cuts of them. This begins the title opening sequence, which feels dropped in from “Word War Z,” for “Monsters: Dark Continent” which is a film split into weary and overdone halves leaving no room for imagination and genuine emotional relevance.

We get the intros back to back to back of those who are about to be recruited into the battle against the insurgents in the middle east. The interactions between them all, with Keeley’s voice over always cutting in, are stilted and uninteresting (there is also the use of the Years and Tours card that shows up with each character introduced trying to make this feel as if it is some high concept docu-drama). So, director Green, wants us to feel for the characters, with introspection (managing to say that Detroit is a fucked up place to live and getting out is the only option) about morally and sociologically issues that plague the soon to transferred soldiers.

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So, after an illegal pit bull vs baby monster fight, the crew decide to party hard with hookers and drugs. Yeah, that is so original, no? Green’s film kicks into gear with an intro to a herd of the giant monsters as they fly over the desert in a chopper. They get briefed on their mission (as part of Team Tiger Shark), get into fisticuffs and after they are humiliated and told they will encounter monsters, they head out on their mission (not before Green delivers what is meant to be a resonant “soldiers interacting with kids” sequence).

What they do encounter out there is harrowing, disastrous and full of the insanities brought upon by war and battle. Parkes and Harris, who suffers from a breakdown and PTSD, are left to their own devices after the many patrols, snipers and encounters with the monsters and armed locals meet with insurmountable bloody opposition and death. Green puts Team Tiger Shark through it’s paces and it is a raw and terrible experience that would better serve some other type of film.

Monsters: Dark Continent,” for all of it’s “war is hell” pomposity, looks nice and serves up a very heavy dose of realism, which just never gels. What is meant to be a life changing story for the angry and rebellious youths that make up Team Tiger Shark, turns into hokey war and terrorism preaching meant to engage us but this isn’t “Homeland” and Green should have really decided which direction to let this story unfold. Green does occasionally thrill us with some cool monster action, much later, done with night vision, once again, going for that realism but ends up being a sort of “Cloverfield” – like tactic. What I did like is how Frater chews out the soldiers for their inexperience and carelessness. Harris, by far, is the one capable actor to watch here and he carries the weight through-out much of the film

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The film continues this way for most of it’s running time, blending cliché after cliché (yelling, screaming, arguing, running, shooting and what have you) with patches of monster mayhem that is just average and not all that impressive. Frater’s descent into madness is a small ray of light and it feels as if it belongs to another movie, somehow (A call to his daughter is a very moving scene before we get that annoying VO by Parkes again). Green shows us that Parkes and Frater are indeed the only ones in this film that change and the monsters are relegated, once again, to the back burner, proving that little imagination is thrown into the story. How would “Cloverfield” have been if the monster just walked around destroying Manhattan and it only was occasionally seen while the film concentrated on a going away party for 90 minutes?

Despite some dynamics of the human condition being explored and the monsters looking pretty cool, when they do appear, the movie doesn’t communicate past the stilted war cliches. Less resonate is how the movie can be actually called a monster movie. It may have well been a flick about a safari with how little the creatures are shown. There is war gore and battles and roadside bombs that echo the better action seen in “Battle: Los Angeles” but it does not remain very memorable.

The film has a gritty and saturated palette and sometimes the quiet score serves the scenes which was refreshing for a film with so much going on in it. Ultimately, the film, with it’s “we are the monsters, not them” mentality, is redundant and frustrating but the last act certainly finds it’s footing but by then I had really lost interest and found myself wanting to watch “Godzilla” instead. The film made me literally tired (it becomes a type of road movie for Parkes and Frater) and desperately hoping for a change in tone. It’s hard to reconcile how the first film, while no masterpiece, actually galvanized this one and by the film’s end I had a bad taste left in my mouth (there is actually a poignant scene in a desert village involving a monster and it’s dead offspring that was impressive).

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Monsters: Dark Continent” will suffice, if it is a Matinee watch or a late Saturday time waster but just barely. It reeks of a wannabe Bigelow or Ridley Scott war flick with some ugly squiddy beasties from outer space thrown in. It gets so heavy handed by the last act and has nowhere to go to redeem itself. Too bad because an amalgam of the 2 genres could really work if done right. The monsters, when on screen, are kick ass to watch lumbering around like the strange creatures in Darabont’s “The Mist,” but those scenes are teases and barely really effective. Watch “Battle: Los Angeles” instead if you need that particular fix for a contemporary military vs monsters movie. Make sure you temper your expectations with this one, gang.

17 comments

  1. I really enjoyed Monsters, remember reading about this sequel. Great review of Monsters Dark Continent Vic. While the sequel isnt quite a match for the suspense of the original film, its still quite good, and we get to see more of the creatures as well. Worth a look, but like you say, don’t set expectations too high.

    • True, we do get to see them quite more but never enough or never with any relevance to what is going on. Except the spore scene which was pretty neat. The final scene was baffling as well. Its ok for a “one and done” kind of watch imo.

      I appreciate you stopping by Paul! I appreciate it man! 😀👍🎬

    • If you enjoyed the first, (it was a sleeper hit) then I say give it a go but it really feels like two films in one, with neither half really excelling in it’s subject matter and execution but it does have a few fleeting monster moments that are pretty cool. The visuals are very well done, too.

      I hope you enjoy it, Keith. It does have it’s fair share of war action and drama. Thanks for checking in, man! Enjoy your weekend!

  2. I didn’t really love the first one, but appreciated it being made and the attempt – it just needed more monsters for a movie called Monsters (to me). This sounds like I would probably not love it very much. Dude – run, don’t walk, to see It Follows.

    Great post!

    • It Follows just opened here in Rochester, finally! It is at a small local art house theater and I am totally stoked to check it out. Will keep you posted!

      Yeah, this movie, repeats the same flaws but on a grander scale, as the first. Um…where are the fucking monsters???

      Glad you dug the review, bro. Thanks for checking in, man. Always great to hear from you.

    • anytime my friend. if you ever get around to it, I’d like to hear your thoughts man! thanks for checking in, Mark. I appreciate it 👍🎬 🎥

  3. Vic, you nailed this one at every turn. As you said, ‘Green should have really decided which direction to let this story unfold.” Regardless of the cliches, the monsters were not necessary and he would have had a better go of it if he had shot a straight up war film. Excellent writing and insight as always. I had to reblog this one!

    • Thanks Bill! I thought I’d resurrect this review from the crypt, on Twitter, lol. I’m really glad you enjoyed it and found it insightful. I like to occasionally re-visit these older reviews, just to see where I was at with my writing, and my review abilities. When you grace me with kind words and shares, then you just sort of validate it all, bro! Thanks so very much. You rock, man!

  4. Hi Vic – I came across your review while looking for positive reviews of this flick on the net. I’m kind of baffled that the reviews are so negative. I think this is a brilliant brilliant movie, and here’s the reason why:

    This is definitely a movie of human nature. It’s about the extremes in hopeless conditions. You can take the monster aliens in this movie to either mean:
    1. a metaphor of an enemy that cannot be vanquished, highlighting the absurdity of sacrifices made in this impossible quest, or
    2. to provide an enemy so impossible to defeat that all the collateral damage becomes all the more senseless.

    I think the second point is why the lead commander loses the plot at the end, and why this is met with the unstoppable mountains of aliens that rise from the sand. It’s also why the mother of the dead child sits and watches the alien release it’s billion of spores and turns around to the soldier once he realises. She also understands the that the monsters can’t be defeated and her son’s death as collateral damage is meaningless in a war that cannot be won.

    The purpose of the aliens is not to create an alien or sci-fi movie. The aliens could just have well been replaced by a deadly virus, killer asteroid, or zombies. It’s a story of human apocalypse, and madness of some types of human behaviour when illuminated by this context.

  5. ps. to clarify what I meant above.. under point 1. above, I meant the absurdity of personal sacrifices. How people have lost who they are and given up their lives with their families.. whereas point 2 is despite a belief in a noble quest in which collateral damage to others is usually justified for the greater good.

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