There are few films that will leave you feeling mesmerized like Gareth Edwards' 2010 sci-fi indie flick Monsters (2010).
Perhaps the most subversive and arguably misleading element to Gareth Edwards' "monster" flick is the title itself. Monsters is, indeed, a film that features "monsters", but they in no way occupy the foreground, with the film instead focusing on the dynamic between its two very human protagonists.
The leviathan, squid-like aliens merely move about in the background, as our human survivors embark on a perilous quest through Mexico's "Infected Zone" in an attempt to reach the US border. However, despite this being science fiction, the world the film occupies feels as real as the one in which we live.
It's this, along with the film's often-guerrilla-style cinematography, and McNairy and Able's palpable chemistry (you'll be fascinated to learn that both actors were actually married in real life at the time the film was made), that makes Monsters oddly realistic despite its rather outlandish premise.
Perhaps the best way to emphasize this point is to compare the film against Godzilla (2014), a film Edwards would direct some four years later (and a project for which he was obviously chosen because of his work on the impressive 2010 film in question).
While the Godzilla reboot is still the most grounded iteration of the giant radioactive monster we've ever seen, and likely ever will, it's still dripping with conventional Hollywood clichés and tropes, and as such, it feels very much like a "movie" rather than a "film", perhaps despite Edwards' best efforts.
Monsters, on the other hand, despite also occupying a world in which enormous beasts have emerged and dominated entire countries, does not. This is as indie as indie films get, so much so that there are times when you're convinced that Mexico really does have an alien problem.
This is owed largely to the way in which many scenes and sequences are executed. McNairy's character Andrew Kaulder is a photo-journalist, and through his eyes we bear witness to the frighteningly-realistic devastation these monsters have unleashed upon places like Mexico City.
But this is where Monsters becomes a far more complex film than you might have given it credit for. There comes a point during viewing when you'll realize the title of the film of course doesn't just refer to the literal monsters, with the US military making up the other half of that double-meaning.
However, the reasons why aren't so clear, at least not until you begin to understand both the film's opening sequence and the closing sequence, and how they connect. But just like the film, we won't necessarily approach things chronologically to emphasize our point here.
Throughout the film, there are many times when we see the destruction left behind by the US Army. This can be seen through the devastation in the Mexican cities caused by aerial strikes, or even during the scene in the forest when locals explain to Andrew and Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) that the creatures only pose a threat when they're being bombed by the Americans.
As such, it's reasonable to draw the conclusion that the title very much possesses a double-meaning: the "monsters" are both figurative and literal. However, this becomes even more apparent when you look at both the opening scene and the end scene in conjunction with one another.
The pre-title prologue sequence follows a military convoy with two civilians in their custody, when they suddenly come face to face with one of the creatures. It becomes clear that the female has been killed in the crossfire, however, these two characters' identities are deliberately concealed - to some extent.
It isn't really until you reach the very final scene that you realise it's actually Andrew and Sam. After encountering two creatures at the gas station, the pair are picked up by a local military escort. But just before the screen goes black, the two are physically separated by the soldiers.
It's at this point we realize that the sequence shown in the prologue is due to follow (one of the soldiers is singing the American national anthem, just like at the start of the film), at which point the soldiers will provoke an attack on one of the nearby creatures, thus resulting in Sam's apparent death.
As per Vertigo Films, here's the official synopsis for Monsters:
Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain “the creatures”… Our story begins when a US journalist (SCOOT MCNAIRY) agrees to escort a shaken American tourist (WHITNEY ABLE) through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
Monsters stars Scoot McNairy (Andrew Kaulder) and Whitney Able (Sam Wynden).