Science-fiction movies have always belonged to one of two camps: the pulp-heavy actioner (Aliens), or the cerebral cine-poem (2001: A Space Odyssey). Once every blue moon, there’ll be a movie that belongs, in most respects, to both, and Monsters: Dark Continent is a prime example – but it’s not without its flaws.
2010’s Monsters represented a brave and bold new direction for low-budget sci-fi, mainly because it actually looked a million dollars; prodigal new director Gareth Edwards created most of the effects (including that film’s stunningly original aliens) on his own, while fantastic performances from Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able propelled a narrative that mainly kept its fascinating creatures at a distance, only rearing their huge heads when metaphor called. That is very much the same case, and admirably so, in Dark Continent (directed by Tom Green) – albeit the ‘infected zone’ in the original has spread to the Middle-east.
The central theme of brotherhood in the movie, as a band of gung-ho marines drop into the warzone together, has its ambitions rooted in those of The Deer Hunter – but in reality, it plays as little more than a boozy Hurt Locker with loud hip-hop thrown in. But when we eventually move away from those dialled-up stereotypes, we’re treated to sparse landscapes and even sparser dialogue – and the film becomes beautiful for it. There are definite moments of wordless wonder; like when the titular monsters, as tall as mountains, grieve over their dead; or when an antelope-esque herd run alongside a military convoy. It’s a downright shame that the innate power of the film’s concepts don’t bleed more into the narrative, which strands itself (literally and figuratively) in the Middle-Eastern desert when a routine mission goes awry. Political allegory can be found in Dark Continent – guns, and grace, too – and while 2014’s Godzilla saw Edwards moving onto bigger monsters, there’s clearly plenty of room to see what the older ones can still do.