Monsters: Dark Continent

 

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The sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Monsters is more impressive than anyone had a right to expect.

   

Monsters Dark Continent

    

Monsters – Gareth Edwards’ 2010 debut, before he went on to direct Godzilla – was a naturalistic yet dream-like monster movie shot on the hoof in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Texas. And all that on a budget of less than $500,000. The sequel, under the helmsmanship of newcomer Tom Green, shifts the action to the ‘Middle East’ – not the Dark Continent, incidentally – and is another showcase for low-budget magic. The cinematography, production design, music and especially the effects are all incredibly impressive. Which is more than one can say for the script.

 

A sort of combo of The Hurt Locker and Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, the film never delivers on its premise. The London-born Johnny Harris makes a charismatic stab at the American sergeant, bringing a no-nonsense ferocity to the role that recalls a young James Gandolfini. Starting out in Detroit, the film focuses on four grunts as they party like there’s no tomorrow – which, possibly, there might not be. Then, after the hard drugs, prostitutes and heavy music (The Amazing Snakeheads, The Graveltones), the quartet arrive at the U.S. army base in the ‘Middle East.’ Their first mission is to rescue five soldiers MIA in an area occupied by trigger-happy insurgents. The colossal Monsters – alien giants that have emigrated from Central America – are largely ignored, accepted as modern-day dinosaurs only to be destroyed should they pose a direct threat.

 

So Monsters: Dark Continent is actually more of a war film – a commentary on the current American presence in Arab terrain – than a monster movie and is as realistic and hard-hitting as they come. It’s also an almost surreal contemplation of the human condition, a stance it shares with Apocalypse Now as the brutality of combat transforms the very outlook of these young, hardened warriors in uniform. But as the grunts struggle to reconcile their purpose in a changing landscape – partially shot in the Jordanian salt flats of Wadi Rum – the film strays into a headspace badly in need of a cohesive storyline. Nonetheless, it boasts enough power and visual ingenuity to secure a potential cult following.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, Jesse Nagy, Nicholas Pinnock, Parker Sawyers, Kyle Soller, Sofia Boutella, Michaela Coel, Philip Arditti.

 

Dir Tom Green, Pro Allan Niblo and James Richardson, Screenplay Jay Basu and Tom Green, Ph Christopher Ross, Pro Des Kristian Milsted, Ed Richard Graham, Music Neil Davidge, Costumes Liza Bracey.

 

Vertigo Films-Hammingden Pictures Ltd.

122 mins. UK. 2014. Rel: 1 May 2015. Cert. 15.