Ten years on from the events of ‘Monsters’ (2010), where a probe launched by NASA discovers the existence of alien life within our solar system and crashes upon re-entry over Central America causing Earth to suffer an alien invasion, the ‘Infected Zones’ have now spread worldwide whilst a new insurgency in the Middle East has begun.
Set sometime in the future, the United States military decides to draft more troops to deal with the latest war against the insurgents, which is now complicated by gargantuan arthropods (that are rendered with impressive and convincing CGI).
Synopsis (Warning: May contain spoilers, duh!)
The Gist of It: In spite of ‘Monsters: Dark Continent’ ticking genre-entertainment boxes more easily than its predecessor, the sequel bears no resemblance to the original either thematically or stylistically; it may, however, strike many viewers as a less interesting and innovative piece of work despite it featuring an entirely new country, fresh characters, and a wider variety of monsters.
‘Monsters: Dark Continent’ revisits the fictional universe created by its predecessor, wherein massive extra-terrestrials, now called MTRs, have invaded earth to terraform it for their own purposes. These titular monsters have evolved unfeasibly quickly by terrestrial standards, developing tougher hides to cope with arid conditions and spawning new subspecies from tiny spores to dog-and horse-sized creatures and even 50-storey-towering behemoths.
In the unnamed Arabic-speaking desert country where the action is set, the American military has been trying to destroy as many MTRs as they can with airstrikes. However, local insurgents, infuriated by the unacceptable levels of collateral damage to civilians, have resorted to using suicide bombs, IEDs and RPGs to attack the occupying U.S forces. A close-knit crew of four newly recruited buddies, Parkes (Sam Keeley), Maguire (Joe Dempsie), Inkelaar (Kyle Soller) and Williams (Parker Sawyer) make a frying pan-to-fire transition from economically depressed Detroit to a region that is swarming with extra-terrestrial monsters and local insurgents; both of which are extremely dangerous.
Under the command of battle-hardened Staff Sergeant Noah Frater (Johnny Harris), a tough PTSD-scarred conflict junkie, Parkes’ unit sets off into the desert on a treacherous rescue mission to recover another squad lost deep behind enemy lines. The mission goes awry almost instantly as they’re attacked—not by monsters, mind you- but by snipers and IEDs. The survivors are then kidnapped by insurgents; who are also not monsters. More of them are killed in an orgy of gunshots and hoarse yelling (but not by monsters); leading to the film’s only two black characters being culled so early on.
Staff Sgt. Frater keeps his head by insisting they complete their mission no matter what, and eventually just he and one other man are left to work their way deeper into enemy territory to confront the scale of destruction wrought by the occupying forces. Throughout all this, the aliens drift about in the background but don’t really pose any direct threat to human life.
Even though the story doesn’t tell you where the soldiers are deployed to fight both the insurgents and MTRs, the environment is unmistakably like the Middle East (It was filmed in Jordan), with the region looking credibly devastated by economic woes and conventional warfare; made only worse by the encroachment of outer space tentacle monsters that have decided to call Earth home.
The main characters of ‘Monsters: Dark Continent’ are introduced in dusty, threatening, grim-looking environments and situations that are reminiscent of any recent film about a real-world war zone; with the exception of giant monster corpses in the streets and anti-alien graffiti on dilapidated buildings. The trouble is that their mission simply isn’t very engaging, and one can’t help feeling that these soldiers are ignoring the 500-ton elephant in the room.
With many disappointed viewers probably discovering that the monsters are used for nothing more than filling in the background, after closer examination and much thought, it becomes apparent that the Americans fear the extra-terrestrials because they are alien to them, like the locals themselves. One could construe the monsters as 500-foot walking metaphors, standing in for extremist concepts of fundamentalism, insurgency or other such merciless forces that threaten to erode the developed world’s power base. Or then again, maybe sometimes a monster is just a monster.
Whatever the filmmaker’s sub-textual intentions may be, the film gets slightly stronger and compelling as it unfolds; thanks in part to the intense emotion on the part of its cast. Combined with the cinematography ably communicating the obligatory chaos of the battle scenes, action scenes are shocking but disorienting; as any and all battle plan is forgotten by the soldiers who are under attack from all sides.
The look of the film recalls a more over-saturated version of contemporary war films like “The Hurt Locker” and “Lone Survivor”, using shaky camerawork, dusty and overexposed street scenes, and the occasional dingy, fluorescent-lit bathroom to connote “realness.” Combined with the occasional deafening rock score, hoarse screaming, and slurry of gunfire, many viewers may find the whole film to be aggressively gritty; to the point that it’s both exploitative and rather boring.
In its own warped and fantastical way, this could be interpreted as a believable, accurate, and sober film about the wars of the 21st century; but it isn’t with its fair share of clichés. Aside from patient viewers being rewarded with a dazzling night funeral visited by an alien giant, the film defies any audience desire for satisfaction or closure.
Ultimately, the creatures remain, the war remains, and all anyone’s efforts amount to is death.
An unconventional sequel to an unconventional film, this barely works as a standalone picture with its own idiosyncratic take on an alien invasion as it struggles to expand on what may now seem like a franchise; hopefully further installments will deliver varied and better explained snapshots of a narrative and human behaviour in such extreme circumstances.
Release Date: 7th May, 2015