Saw this on 17/4/16
Despite having a lackluster plot, this film has enough human drama, performances and sensible social commentary in an alien invasion. How far all these adds up depends on how much the viewer is expecting.
Monsters begins by introducing an interesting story context. Cleverly introducing a way to tell a story about monsters yet confine it to a small setting, Monsters produces an interesting universe simply through the means of its intro text before having a brief sequence depicting humans battling aliens in the shadows. This scene cleverly uses visual techniques to hide the requirement for visual detail while also making use of strong visual effects. This sets up an interesting film, one which is ultimately non-existent.
Admittedly, Monsters is a fine example of a film which has such a small budget that it has to stretch its limitations very far to achieve feature length. It relies on an established universe that it never has to actually depict because it leaves everything to the implications and therefore the imaginations of viewers. Many people seem to have approved of this notion which has led Monsters to being a successful film, but it does not bypass me. To compare it to the horror film Pod (2015), both have miniscule budgets and attempt to stretch both character drama and the general idea of their material to feature length as a means of creating a prolonged story. Neither are truly great films, but Pod managed to keep things satisfying through the use of constant intensity in the actors and a consistent focus on its concept. Monsters gets its characters distracted with themes of relationship drama and subconscious political themes rather than harnessing the potential of its setting. If you walked in on Monsters at a random time without knowing its title, it is highly likely you wouldn't guess it was a horror film since there is so little horror in it. There are few seconds of actual monsters depicted in the film, and though they are captured with fairly impressive visual effects, they add no flair to the feature since nothing is done with them. Nothing is done with really anything in Monsters because nothing happens.
Monsters' budgetary limitations means that it cannot take advantage of the high profile story context it establishes and falls into a meandering path of slow distractions for the entirety of the film. There is an extensive period of slow "character building" after the intro until the characters begin to enter the war zone where they travel up rivers and through forests which do not maintain nearly any sign of extra-terrestrial life present, or even threats in general. The scenery is definitely nice and the cinematography captures it well, but it doesn't capture much that is all that innovative. The one exception to this comes from when the characters reach the ghost town that was Texas once upon a time only to find it abandoned and as dreary as the old west. Alas, this moment is too short in comparison to everything else which stretches nothing on for what seems like forever even though the film only runs for a total of 94 minutes. To put it simply, for a film titled Monsters there is barely anything to support the title actually depicted in the film. The main characters are uninteresting and have arbitrary experiences that prove irrelevant to the rest of the film and there is nothing interesting for them to say. And though there is the potential for interesting politics to be explored in the story, nobody bothered to touch upon the situation suggested by the introductory context and so it becomes forgettable very fast. The entire experience of the film itself is hardly a memorable one simply because there is nothing particularly likable or hateable about Monsters. It is just boring with nothing distinctive or all that original about it, even though it had the definite potential to be.
The fact that Monsters attempts to build a plot and use its visual effects sporadically is the same thing the director would do when he made Godzilla. However, Godzilla actually had more characters who were worth caring about and managed to do something with its monsters when they were on screen. It also worked to capitalize on the universe it was depicting rather than leaving it to the imaginations of viewers. This goes to show that the man has improved since directing Monsters, and Bryan Cranston has admitted that one of the key reasons he signed on to Godzilla was as a result of seeing this film. Alas, his enthusiasm is not infectious. The scope that Gareth Edwards reached in Godzilla was far higher than the one in Monsters, and though it is obviously because the man had a lot more money to do it, he still could have organized a better script or more engaging characters to support Monsters through its slower moments and make it more compelling as a genuine drama set within a monster film context. Even though Monsters has only five crew members, off-the-shelf equipment and has to use many locations illegally, Gareth Edwards doesn't seem to accept his limitations which ultimately means he shoots for a scale that is too high for a film on a budget that is too low. There is some admiration that comes from his ambition and his ability to harness so much despite there clearly being a lot standing in the way of creating a feature length monster movie which he transcends successfully enough to achieve effective box office returns and land the role of director for Godzilla. So the resulting effects of Monsters certainly did more good than evil, but in terms of genuine entertainment value Monsters is not a film I can recommend as any kind of spectacle or clever film in the first place.
Monsters has some interesting ideas behind it, but they are ultimately unexplored in favour of a slow-moving and generic monster movie which offers lifeless characters and generic dialogue in favour of any actual monsters or any kind of a spectacle in general.