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
“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.
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.
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
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).
“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.