A blog about movies and filmmaking.

MONSTERS and DEMONS, October is Scary!!

In Horror, sci-fi on October 21, 2010 at 3:06 am

So, it’s that time of year. Where all the freaks get to gallivant around and not look as freakish. So I guess it’s suiting that there should be some horror-esque movies on my viewing list. In this particular case, one is a sequel to an extremely low-budget horror movie that managed to become one of the most profitable movies ever. (Around $15,000 budget, over $190 million dollars, worldwide, just for reference sake.) The other is a low-fi, science fiction movie that is sort of the alien running amok equivalent to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. A small, movie that’s a little DISTRICT 9, some APOCALYPSE NOW and a dash of those SUNSET movies with Ethan Hawke.

Let’s just say you could do a lot worse than watching either of these over this month, of celebrating things that go bump in the night, or that shake the entire earth as they approach.

First up is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, the followup to the 2009 smash hit – already mentioned – and let me just tell you right up front; it delivers.

Directed by Tod Williams (THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR), the new movie connects to the original in a very interesting and horrifying way. It features the leads from the original movie – which was surprising – since the leads of this movie are actually related. And the one thing it really proves is an old axiom I live by – Never visit your family.

The movie starts off with the birth of baby Hunter. The Rey family bring him home, make the obligatory jokes about how he looks lumpy, and then offer to give him (and us) a tour of the house. The movie starts off even slower than the original, where the story actually begins because the main character bought a new camera to document the silly haunting his place is experiencing since moving in with his girlfriend. The first major kick is when the family comes home and finds their entire house trashed, yet nothing was stolen. So, they have security cameras installed. Which gives us a number of repeated nights of the swimming pool, the kitchen, and the baby sleeping.

But, where the movie really kicks in and separates itself from it’s progenitor, is in the quality of scares. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY had some good jump moments, but other than the climax there were only really slamming doors and loud noises. In the sequel, we get the tried and true thumps and shadows moving around, but there’s also some excellent moments that really turn up the terror. I won’t go into them, because they are fun to be discovered in the moment. The other major difference is how this movie doesn’t really use the one trick that I liked most before. The fast-forwarding of the video through the night. (It is used once.)

The effect that it has is that this movie feels a more cinematic in that there are a lot more cuts and angles. Whether that’s a positive or a negative, I’m not sure. I feel that a bit of the charm originally was the fact that we were watching these events unfold, uncut. Interestingly, we also get a little more of the back-story on exactly how this family might have come to be shadowed by this presence. It’s interesting and not entirely something we haven’t seen before.

Overall, if you were a fan of the original, you’re bound to love this movie. It takes all the positives of what came before and amplifies them. It builds the mythology – if they continue the series, I definitely see angles that they could take. And since this series’ main conceit is so simple, there’s not much to take away from it.

With the one exception, that goes along with just about every horror movie, and that is; why the hell don’t they just go running out of the house? It was good enough for POLTERGEIST, it should be good enough for everyone else. Otherwise, there are just some plot moments – like for all the crazy stuff going on, they sure do leave the baby laying alone in his crib an awful lot – where the movie leaves me wishing they’d just get back to ghosts swinging doors around.

MONSTERS doesn’t quite follow the documentarian viewpoint in its approach. Instead it’s just shot that way, but we’re treated to a fully encapsulated world where the only camera present is the one that the main character, Andrew (played by Scoot McNairy), an entrenched photo-journalist carries around his neck. His mission in this story is to guide the daughter of his boss back to the United States, before the aliens that have settled on our planet – in a small area in southern Texas and northern Mexico – have their mating season and things get ugly.

Their goal is to go around the ever ominous sounding “Infection Zone” to get home, but things don’t go quite as planned and they in-fact do wind up traveling through the beautiful landscape, lush forests, and towering mountains that represent the “no man’s land”. Packed up with water, gas masks, and not much else they set out on their voyage with the help of exploitive business men, sketchy guerillas, and some of that good old fancy footwork. (aka, walking)

The fun in the movie is it’s meandering pace and the lack of pressure on these two main characters to get along while all of the pressure of surviving presses down on them. The aliens, which are lumbering Cthulu-like creatures that can mysteriously appear out of nowhere, are an ever-present threat. And unlike some other similar-type movies (Ahem, THE MIST) this movie doesn’t really give us that deep of a perspective that it’s us – humans – that are truly the monsters. Other than, y’know, the scattered appearances of destruction that we’re never sure are from a renegade alien, or from the repeated fire-bombings of the US Air Force.

Okay, so maybe there’s a little of the “we’re the monsters” subtext.

But the main draw of the movie is seeing these two characters, Andrew and Sam (played by real life wife of McNairy, Whitney Able), get to know each other and, yes, even themselves. Sam, being the young “princess” so to speak, shows us that she’s not just some sheltered girl who can’t take care of herself. She’s the one that is actually fluent in Spanish (helpful in Mexico, I’d imagine.), has the human kindness when they need to ask for help, and of course has to deal with things waiting for her back home. (Not spoiling that one.) Andrew, a little more self-concerned, really only cares about getting a good photo of one of the aliens – alive, preferably causing lots of damage – so he can make a lot of money. There’s a great line, where Sam asks him how he feels about a job where he benefits from people being hurt. To which he responds, “you mean, like a doctor?” Which despite being witty, isn’t quite the same thing. Still, we get it. There’s money in suffering. But along the way he also expands his horizons and learns that there are actually people on the other side of his lens and people that he owes to have more connection with, also back home.

But, their voyage is filled with both beauty and sadness. There’s the travelogue, similar to movies like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and SIN NOMBRE; there’s the tragedy and dereliction like THE ROAD and, well, I guess I just need to compare it to that. Director Gareth Edwards, captures everything magnificently. The movie is nearly all hand-held, but never gets all shakey-cam crazy. The real prize here, filmmaking wise, is the great incorporation of the digital effects.

Sure the compositing of tanks and certain things, when up close show a little of the limitations that the movie had budgetarily, but there’s nothing here that I would call bad. And the effects for the aliens themselves are great. We get one moment of a closeup on one – well, it’s tentacles – and they blend very well with the environment and while not wholly original, certainly stand out as something distinct.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to take anything away from MONSTERS by comparing it to all these other movies. It’s just that after seeing it, it’s made me think of the movies that are clearly of the same mentality and genre (this movie actually being filmed in 2008, puts it about in the same production period as a lot of these as well, so it’s definitely not ripping anyone off.). I can’t necessarily say that it’s better or worse than the movies I’ve compared it to. But, it stands shoulder to shoulder with them.

Monsters is available through online, On-Demand and in limited release. http://www.monstersthemovie.com/

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Muth, John Muth. John Muth said: Happy October (almost Halloween), here's my reviews of 2 fun horror-ish movies. MONSTERS & Paranormal Activity 2: http://wp.me/ps9nC-ck […]

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