[Samantha Wynden]: Doesn't that bother you? That you need something bad to happen to profit?
[Andrew Kaulder]: What? Like a doctor?
You would be hard-pressed to pick out the budgetary restrictions in Monsters. Director and writer Gareth Edwards maintains an understated production with his actors (locals found on location), camera work (handheld, or propped up with makeshift stands), and events (the aftermath of fighting the monsters becomes more important than the actual battles). People, locations, and events are used so well it keeps this love story, this conflict story, this tentacled aliens bigger than a bread truck story, within a science fiction zone you rarely see shown on the big screen. It's thoughtful, lingering, doubtful and certain, all in one modest story because the monsters are not the main point of the invasion; it's how we, the humans interacting with them, deal with it.
Gas masks, military missile responses to monster incursions into populated areas, a massive--and useless--American-made wall erected at the border to keep the monsters in Mexico and out of the U.S., and people becoming acclimated to infected zones and a disrupted way of life provide the local color. You get a sense the monsters aren't so monstrous when they're not attacked, and a feeling the American response to the NASA-caused debacle is overkill and ineffective. Monsters can be viewed metaphorically, but Edwards opportunistic storyline (scenes and actors coalesced around daily opportunities during filming, according to Wikipedia), sets a tone showing the situational reality instead of indicting it.
Photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is looking for a big break. He wants pictures of monsters, not ones of little kids killed in the fighting. He's already taken enough of those. Getting in the way is his boss, whose daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able)--note the upper-crusty sounding name--is in need of an escort to get her out of Central America and back home for her wedding. A wedding she's not enthusiastic about. She even barters her expensive ring for passage after the ferry leaves without them. He has doubts, she has doubts; it's doubtful they'll find an easy way home.
They don't. Missing the ferry, and with the last train out blocked by the annual monster migration, they must travel through the Extra-Terrestrial Infected Zone, or stay put for 6 months. Along the way, they meet mercenaries, monsters, death, and their true selves. It's all very much like an Ingmar Bergman movie but without Max von Sydow, and directed a tad more lively. Tantalizing sounds and glimpses of the large creatures (looking like upright land-squids that glow) pepper the tension. There's something beautiful and alarming about them. They leave small, pulsating, glowing embryos on trees. A quiet encounter at a deserted gas station between two monsters reveals more about the creatures, and Andrew and Samantha as well.
A fast-paced, night-vision point of view, military encounter with a frenzied monster in the beginning comes full circle at the end with a military rendezvous at the gas station. In-between, the journey taken is as revealing to us as it is them. Monsters shows us how much power an independent movie, made on a tight budget, can achieve.