Monsters at the Border
- April 11, 2011
There can be more to science fiction films than Dolby whooshes and hyperactive CGI special effects. Gareth Edwards’s low-budget sci-fi flic Monsters is a terrific example of what can be done with a lot of imagination and intelligence and very little money. Shot on an incredible pre-production budget of $15,000 which eventually rose to just over half a million, it’s an engaging love story-cum-monster flic and a haunting allegory of American security fears in the early 21st century.
The premise is the following: A NASA space probe investigating alien life forms has crashed in Mexico, transforming the entire Mexican borderzone into an ‘infected zone’ populated with monsters. To protect itself from the creatures which it has brought back to earth, the US Department of Homeland Security has built a massive wall to seal off the Mexican border that makes the Great Wall of China look like a garden fence.
Jaded photographer Andrew is tasked with escorting his rich employer’s daughter Sam back to the USA from Costa Rica – not an easy journey in the monster-infested Mexican outlands. But the actual monsters are less important than the emotional response of the two leads, as they make their way through an apocalyptic landscape of jungle rivers, wrecked tanks, boats and cars, and poverty-stricken ghost towns blasted by US airstrikes and chemical weaponry.
Hand-held cameras cast a murky glow on a world that resembles a cross between the Chernobyl Dead Zone and the river journey in Apocalypse Now – a film that Edwards cleverly reprises when a team of US Marines sings March of the Valkyries in the opening scene.
It’s a world of desperation and survival, where armed guerrillas skirmish constantly with monsters and television brings the latest news of ‘creature brotes’ (creature outbreaks), and bribes are necessary to get an armed escort through the jungle to the Wall, a world that is not that different from the actual Mexican borderzone.
It’s in this merging of the ‘real’ and imagined border that Monsters succeeds so brilliantly, in its District 9-style playing on the notion of ‘illegal aliens’, its referencing of the Mexican drug war and the murdered women of Juarez – all the components that in the eyes of US securocrats, make up the ‘infected zone’ beyond the border.
You can also extend the allegory further to include other ‘monsters’ that the US border is intended to keep out, from al Qaeda to the Taliban with the parameters of the ‘infected zone’. To some extent the whole concept of ‘homeland security’ is based on the notion that much of the world beyond the US border has become an ‘infected zone’ infested with terrorists, fundamentalists, drug cartels or ‘illegal aliens’.
As in the film, the fortification of the ‘real’ US-Mexico border has become part of an ongoing attempt to keep these monsters out, through the construction of fences, walls, military deployments, the use of UAVs and in Republican calls to build a 750-mile wall along the border.
‘Do you think the Wall will be enough to keep the creatures out?’ Sam asks her Mexican escorts. This is a question that many Americans have been asking for some time. Monsters suggests that the answer is probably in the negative, and that the obsessive securitisation of the American homeland may lead others to conclude, as Sam does, that being outside the wall may be preferable to living inside it.