Monsters: Dark Continent is by a British director, Tom Green, but it regurgitates American war film cliches so dutifully that you wouldn’t think it. Its superior predecessor, Monsters, was about aliens landing in Mexico. Now they’ve spread to the Middle East (not a continent, which renders the title rather puzzling). The real villains, however, aren’t the aliens but those pesky Arabs, who, as the film takes great pains to establish, cling to their silly feuds even with the apocalypse on their doorstep. The depiction of the Arabs is pretty reprehensible–they’re either servile or psychopathic. They’re certainly not real people. The film even opens with the call to prayer sounding over a generic Arab city, a cliche so old The Naked Gun mocked back in 1988. The heroes, for their part, are the most uninteresting roughnecks imaginable.
Dark Continent tries hard to garner the audience’s respect but only makes a fool out of itself. The dialogue aims for realism, but is neither believable nor interesting. The characters mostly communicate in shouts, grimaces, and clumsy hugs. When Dark Continent attempts to generate pathos, it falls utterly flat–the death of one major character at the hands of insurgents is hard to watch only because it drags out for so long. There’s no real plot, just a series of running battles and escapes intercut with a few slow, sentimental interactions.
This could perhaps be excusable if Dark Continent had a bit of spectacle about it. Unfortunately, in striving to capture the grittiness of The Hurt Locker, Edwards has produced a deeply drab and unattractive film. The design of the aliens–lots of tentacles, no distinguishing features–reflects their afterthought status in the setting. They mostly just lumber about and moan, never feeling like a real threat. The film is shot in the handheld style, but no tension is ever generated.
It’s sad, but Dark Continent feels wrongly conceived at every level. Maybe next time Green can make a war film without shoehorning in CGI monsters, or a monster film which doesn’t try to deal with the horrors of war. Sadly, Dark Continent suggests he doesn’t know how to do either very well.