Director: Gareth Edwards
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1470827/
I wasn’t sure what to make of this film when I saw the icon for it on my Netflix “Newly Arrived” selections. I read the very brief description: Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border. Well, hmm, sounds like an interesting movie, though considering I hadn’t heard about it, I was expecting a Syfy Original style ham-fest.
Boy was I mistaken. This movie goes back to the roots of great scary movie making – make the story about the people, not the monsters. In fact, you rarely see the alien creatures, which are cthuloid cephalopods of enormous size (CCESes? I don’t think they exist…). However, they are an ever present background threat that brings tense drama to the story of these two unlikely travelling companions trying to cross from Mexico into the U.S.
The movie isn’t particularly long, clocking in at about 93 minutes. It plays almost more like a travelogue than a monster movie. The scenery is almost as much a star of the movie as the cast, which is another point in this film’s favor. It shows the beauty of Mexico without over sensationalizing it. Unlike some films, the people the travelers meet on their way are very human, helpful and honest. It’s refreshing to not see Mexicans portrayed as lazy, wicked or mistrustful. They’re just people, plain and simple; people who have to live with giant aliens that roam the northern half of their country.
There’s a sense that more is going on than the characters know, that the governments involved, both the Mexican and U.S. governments, are hiding a lot about these creatures. At the same time, the characters themselves come to learn that some of the hostility exhibited by the creatures may have to do with the destruction of their spores, which they deposit on trees and appear to be glowing fungus. In the end, the monsters are not so monstrous.
The characters also have their own crosses to bear. You quickly come to understand that the woman, Samantha (Whitney Able), is running from her fiancée, and possibly from her wealthy father and the boring life she’s intended to lead. The photo journalist, Andrew (Scooter McNairy), eventually reveals that he has a son that he’s rarely allowed to visit, and it causes him great pain that he can’t be more a part of the boy’s life. The two have little in common other than they both come to realize they are running away from their lives. By the end of the movie, they seem to come to a romantic climax, just as they are whisked apart by soldiers sent to rescue them.
This movie feels “real” for another, very surprising reason. The movie was filmed without a lot of outline and very little scripting. The two actors just interacted with each other, and the film was shot with two off the shelf cameras. Extras were simply people who jumped in to help out. The entire crew consisted of about a dozen people who put the film together and created the special effects with basic editing software. The effects aren’t spectacular in the film, but they don’t need to be, as you rarely see the monsters, and when they do appear you’re too absorbed into the film to notice.
The movie is rated R, but this is only for language. There’s very little in the way of gore, practically no blood at all, though there are some disturbing images of victims of an alien attack. However, compared to a big budget action film, this movie is barely worthy of the R rating.
This film didn’t generate a lot of interest when it came out, and only premiered on three screens. It’s available on Netflix instant queue, and I highly recommend giving it a watch. It’s a touching story, with some great visuals and amazing acting considering how it was made
I’ll leave you with this, a quote from the movie, when Samantha is confronting Andrew about his rather morbid obsession for taking pictures of tragedy.
Samantha: Doesn’t that bother you? That you need something bad to happen to profit?
Andrew: Like a doctor?