A follow-up to Gareth Edwards hipster take on an alien invasion genre, this independently-standing sequel directed by Tom Green better known for his work on Misfits and Blackout, takes us to a more Joseph Conrad-inspired corner.
The film is set years from the original, in which we encounter two mopey and entirely unsympathetic examples of humanity. This time, our focus is on a group of soldiers who are fighting in the “infected zones.”
The first film left us viewing humanity with suspicion, but also established military actions as the failed attempt at pushing back the organic invasion of an alien origin that started to alter everything from plants to growing highly complex organisms. A more subtle take on the concept we previously encontered in Evolution, a film from a few years back (which I contended would have made for one of the most cracking television shows, ever) with David Duchovny and Orlando Jones, Monsters is using the alien elements in order to eviscerate the stories of humanity, or lack thereof.
The Dark Continent continues with this mode, offering us an insight into a fun group of young men who grew up together, pay for strippers together, enjoy a little bit of cocaine, and are unabashedly gross, but in a purely nihilistic form, preparing for a potential death that is to come. They do love each other, however, and are willing to die for one another.
Green’s lense captures a delightful portrait of humanity, one that is as dark, as it is imbued with potential for heroics, love, honor, and loyalty.
Amongst the young men is an old “lion,” an American spetsnaz, if you may, played by Johnny Harris.
The group is sent not only to battle the megalithic monsters, roaming the deserts, but the insurgent population, rising with anger at loss of lives and violence.
We meet Harris in the field, as a sniper who manages to shoot his target, whose background is unknown.
Harris is not only a commanding officer, a survivor, and a tough man to kill, but also one who can make the tough decisions: when to kill for mercy, what to do to survive, and what price he is willing to pay to live.
The rag-tag team is sent to bring back four men, but the insurgency quickly turns into a real threat, and most of the friends die in variety of agonizing deaths.
Sam, played by Michael Parkes, survives. Together with Noah, played by Johnny Harris, the two escape, with an eye to complete the mission.
Thirsty, tired, and injured, they traverse the dessert and find a bombed school bus, full of dead children but one. Noah’s instinct is to kill the boy and spare him an agonizing death, but Sam looks to another kind of mercy.
In a moment of despair, inching toward a loss of emotional and physical exhaustion, the two are rescued by bedouins, who take them in for their rescue of the boy from the bus.
Bedouin women are known for their beauty, we soon discover, as Sam’s becomes intrigued by the dark-haired woman in a blood-red shawl. They eat, they sing around the fire, and hydrate.
Sam’s intrigue leads him to a burial ground, where the bedouin princess weeps over numerous bodies of children, while Noah witnesses the death of the boy they rescued, and experiences his own emotional catharsys. Noah is a father, and the only thing that stands between him and his own family is completing the mission. For a second, Noah’s darkness emerges, in its raw, emotional power, as his love becomes an expression of hate, death, and rage.
In the midst of all this death, carnage, and sadness, the monsters emerge in the night, with their animalistic features, tentacles, grasping for one another, moaning sounds of giants, until they release electrifying spores floating through the air.
Morning arises, bringing small acts of kindness and glimpses of humanity, interrupted by Noah’s violent impression of the sense of urgency they face. Getting back to the mission leads them to a bedouin boy whose treasure lies in an old tea tin. Inside it is an alien version of a cuttlefish, but flying, wiggling through the air, until it dissolves into large tentacles absorbed by the fine sands beneath their feet.
Reaching the city, instead of finding the men they were to rescue, they find a pile of corpses. None are alive. Noah loses control, and shoots an innocent man as he looks for answers to meaningless deaths of humanity. Sam has no option but to shoot to stop him from further annihilation. Bullet through the kidney makes him stop, stumble out, only to witness something much larger in the foreground.
The landscape is in turmoil. Tentacles size of buildings arise, ushered by dust, and a scream of a much larger alien than even the megaliths witnessed earlier. Sam is a witness to this gargantuan living thing, but also a witness to continuous struggle of humanity, embroiled in death, love, fighting.
Green’s visceral take on Monsters is an transparent homage to true and tried giants of cinema such as Armageddon. This film is an direct interpretation of the Heart of Darkness, with a science fiction element that provides an powerful image of the other. As such, this film presents us with an examination of contemporary politics and mores, themes and realities of middle-eastern conflicts, still ongoing. It also provides us however, with an insightful if painful reminder of the inescapable loss justified through mechanisms of conflict.
The world in Monsters is changing, dying, as it is being transformed into an alien landscape that has no room for humanity. This end of world scenario is an exploration of an inner conflict between what we assume are qualities of humanity, and that of its loss in high-conflict, high-stress areas, and Green tackles this with gusto.