“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 U.S. border.” — IMDb
Despite its name, this is very much not just a simple monster movie — it transcends the monster genre, even the horror genre, to something much deeper, and makes you question the very name being used to describe the beings you see on screen.
Andrew Kaulder (played by Scoot McNairy) is on-assignment as a photojournalist documenting the ongoing battle between human and alien in northern Mexico. Six years prior, a NASA space probe crash landed there and spread some sort of inhuman life form, leading to an invasion and subsequent quarantine (and a huge wall being built between the United States and Mexico). When Kaulder is asked to escort his boss’s daughter, Sam Wynden (played by Whitney Able, his real-life girlfriend), he is resistant at first, but they form a deep bond as they navigate the terrain and gain a unique understanding and perspective on the very creatures they are running from.
This movie was made on a budget of a mere $500,000 and director and writer, Gareth Edwards (who you may be hearing a lot about since he just directed the new Star Wars film, Rogue One), sure as hell knew how to stretch that budget to its limit. He cut many costs by doing a huge chunk of the work himself (he served as the cinematographer, production designer, and visual effects artist as well, creating all 250 visual effects shots on a laptop in his bedroom over the span of 5 months). The only two hired actors were the lead characters — everyone else was found on-location and improvised their lines. They were able to travel around the 5 countries they filmed in with just a van to carry the only 7 people in their production crew.
But, again, he knew how to make everything work for him. It’s part horror as they run from this unknown menace, part post-apocalyptic as they walk past quarantine signs and see graffiti and cartoons depicting the sea creature-like beings, part travel documentary as they glide down a river with armed guards, part romance as they form this intimate bond. It was a wise choice, I think, to have the story take place years after most movies would have chosen… he opted more for the aftermath rather than the action that may have initially taken place as the creatures took root on earth. It’s fascinating to see how people have adjusted, how unphased some of the locals are, how our countries interact with each other, and how we, as humans, spend more time attacking and defending than we do understanding and learning, very much mirroring our real life relationships, both politically and socially.
It’s a slow burn, for sure, and we technically see the heartbreaking end as the first scene, before we witness their adventure.
I, of course, appreciated the photography aspect of the whole ordeal. Kaulder is a photojournalist as heart and aims to capture things in as gritty and genuine a way as possible, but I was glad to see his humanity shine through when he’s unable to, despite what he thought, photograph a dead child.
When they finally see two of the creatures up close and observe their tender interaction, you are made to feel just as much awe as you imagine they did — you’re watching these two otherwordly beings just float and glow and make these mournful whale calls and you’re filled with curiosity and a bit of sadness as you realize how misunderstood their actions are and how they will likely ultimately be destroyed by kneejerk fear and violence.
Really an amazing movie, definitely worth a watch!