Monsters: Dark Continent – LFF World Premier Review

It’s that Dan Jolin out of Empire Magazine with Tom Green and the Monsters: Dark Continent team

How do you write a review of a film that is still running around your mind?  Given that the film in question is the sequel-of-sorts to Gareth Edwards stunning 2010 Monsters, it may surprise you to hear that this film, marketed to an extent (the trailer is HERE), as a sci-fi actioner, asks some rather profound questions about the world we live in today.

Monsters: Dark Continent (hereafter referred to as M:DC do to pure laziness on my part) is Tom Green’s debut feature set on the other side of the world created by Gareth Edwards.  Following the arrival via broken up NASA satellite, the Earth is now home, not only to us, but massive creatures in quarantined “Infected Zones”.  Where Edwards original had us journey through the Central American I.Z., M:DC takes us to an unnamed Middle Eastern country where a brutal war is being fought against the creatures and, due to the collateral damage of attacking the creatures wherever they are, the locals as well.  Into this mix is thrown a group of Detroit boys who have the Army as their only ticket out of the deprivation of their home.  The streets of Detroit are shown as run down, deserted and, the voice over of Sam Keeley‘s Michael tells us, offering nothing but drugs and violence.  The group spend their last day on home soil partying before they are deployed and assigned to the unit commanded by Johnny Harris‘ Sargent Frater.  Harris’ Frater is introduced carrying out the assignation of an insurgent, while all around the remains of the creatures, and the damaged caused by killing them, are being cleared away.  The first two acts take us threw familiar territory.  The friends joining up, shipping out and their first mission, where they inspect a remote farm, the owner of which is suspected of being an insurgent.  While searching, the owner confronts our unit and demands to know why they are on his land.  Frater repeatedly asks if the framer is an insurgent, the man replies that this is his home.  Who really is the insurgent?

The film expands on this idea, this question, from here on.  The busy streets of the city the unit find themselves in, is a stark contrast to the deserted Detroit.  With airstrikes constantly rumbling in the background, destroying this world for the inhabitants in the name of a greater good they never asked for.  Given its budget, it is a strikingly shot film.  The combat scenes are visceral, with good use of the old “shakey cam”, while the shocking immediacy of the fighting shatters the calm that lulls you in.  The performances from all the actors is superb.  The various emotions on show clearly develop the various motives for why these men are there.  Joe Dempsie is excellent as Michael’s best mate Frankie (hard to believe that I was watching Chris from Skins) he is committed, believable and an emotional counter point to the others.  But the two leads, Johnny Harris and Sam Keeley, descend into their characters in such a way that you are captivated by the journey they take.  Harris’ Frater is lost to the army, the mission being the only thing he feels can redeem him from the alienation of his family, yet takes him further away.  While Keeley’s Michael refusal to let go of what humanity he has left puts him at odds with Frater.

The main set piece of the film is a rescue mission that goes wrong.  While it telegraphs what is going to happen next in a misjudged moment of dialogue while the unit get on the the helicopter, the set piece that follows, while lessened by the knowledge of whats about to happen next, is still beautifully executed.  The going from wonder at the creatures that run along side their Humvees, to the grim reality of combat is handled in a way that is shocking, not gratuitous and propels us further into the decent of our leads.  The final half hour is a journey through a blasted wilderness, salvation coming from a unexpected place and a finale that asks us the same question as the original did so well, who really are the monsters?

As a first feature, Tom Green has crafted a remarkable film.  Taking Gareth Edwards’ premise and expanding it in a creative and inventive way, he has made an impressive picture and dispelled my fears of cashing in on the original.  Keeley and Dempsie, as is the whole cast to be fair, are very good, committing to their roles and allowing their characters to descend to the dark places required.  But for me, it was Johnny Harris, who I really only know from This Is England ’86 and ’88, who really blew me away.  The commitment to go where Frater goes, to surround himself in the darkness that Frater is lost in, is an impressive feat and is the standout performance in a film that has a few of them.  I will certainly pay up to see what Green and Harris get up to next.

I’ve danced around the plot as best I could to let the film unfold for you as it did me.  The trailers are misleading and the film is very thoughtful, asking big questions over interventionism and involvement in things we, the west, don’t understand.  It is a very timely film.  It is not without its problems, shaky dialogue in places, a bit too much “Basil Exposition” in others and the aforementioned telegraphed “this is what happens next” scene are all that jarred and took me momentarily out of the zone, but these, and maybe about fifteen minutes too many in length, are minor points to raise.  Science Fiction throughout the last hundred years has been used by writers and filmakers to ask the big questions.  You can approach Monsters: Dark Continent as a pure sci-fi action romp and there is more than enough of that to make you happy you spend your ticket fee.  But scratch a little deeper and this film opens up to you in a why I found surprising and seriously thought provoking.  Monsters: Dark Continent is an impressive film which I seriously hopes find it’s audience and gets the attention it truly deserves.

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