Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 3, 2015)
With a worldwide gross of barely $4 million, 2010’s Monsters didn’t exactly set box offices on fire. However, it received positive reviews and had enough buzz to hurtle director Gareth Edwards to the big leagues: he went from the super-low-budget Monsters to 2014’s “summer tentpole” flick Godzilla.
Monsters also mustered enough of an audience to support a sequel via 2015’s Monsters: Dark Continent. In the first film, we learned that aliens had landed on Earth but had been “quarantined” into locations in northern Mexico.
Set 10 years after the prior movie, Dark Continent reveals that these “infected zones” have now spread elsewhere in the world, and we head to the Middle East. The air strikes used to combat the monsters also incite an insurrection in the local population, so that forces military operatives to battle both aliens and human rebels as well.
We meet Private Michael Parkes (Sam Keeley), a Detroit native who heads to fight along with his pals Private Sean Williams (Parker Sawyers) and Private Frankie Maguire (Joe Dempsie). Led by Staff Sgt. Noah Frater (Johnny Harris), we follow their experiences as they deal with threats from both the monsters and the natives
Because I didn’t get a review copy, I never reviewed Monsters, but I did watch it a couple of years back. I went into it with high hopes but found it to offer a disappointment.
Like many movies in the “found footage” genre such as Paranormal Activity, it felt like Monsters offered lots of footage of nothing. We’d follow characters who meandered around without much purpose and barely spent time with the titular creatures.
Dark Continent abandons the “found footage” format for a more traditional approach – albeit one heavy in “shakycam”. Of all modern movie-making clichés, the overuse of handheld camerawork bugs me the most. Rather than give the tale “immediacy”, these cinematographic choices tend to simply come across as laziness, as though none involved could be bothered to frame the shots.
Shakycam becomes only one of the filmmaking problems evident in Dark Continent, an effort replete with flaws. Arguably my biggest complaints relate to our main characters, as the movie makes them both simplistic and unlikable. The tale presents the guys as macho stereotypes who party when they can and talk about what studs they are the rest of the time. I guess we’re supposed to care about them because of the “band of brothers” concept, but I felt nothing for any of the soldiers, as the movie failed to create an emotional attachment toward them.
With its “soldiers who battle monsters” motif, Dark Continent seems destined to evoke memories of 1986’s Aliens - or that might be the case if the flick actually featured many of the titular space monkeys. A screening of Dark Continent reminds me of a line from Jurassic Park: “Eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?”
Vast swaths of the film pass with nary a shot of monsters on display. Of course, I said the same about the original Monsters, but since that choice seemed like a problem there, matters don’t improve in Dark Continent.
Though at least I can’t accuse Dark Continent of its predecessor’s lack of action. While Monsters often seemed like nothing more than a travelogue, Dark Continent throws all sorts of combat at us. Hardly any of it involves actual monters, of course, but at least we’re not left with characters who do little more than ride buses and boats.
So Dark Continent offers much more of a traditional war movie than a sci-fi “man vs. aliens” flick, and I’d be fine with that if it offered a good traditional war movie. Unfortunately, Dark Continent brings nothing new or exciting or intriguing to the genre.
Not that it lacks potential. Dark Continent could’ve used the primary combat of soldiers vs. monsters as a metaphor to explore how ancillary damage affects civilians, and that could’ve made it a thoughtful expansion of its genre.
Instead, it relies on a litany of clichés. As already noted, the characters seem simplistic and predictable, and the narrative situations offer no added involvement of their own. This ends up as a tedious, tiresome film that misuses its premise.