Monsters: Dark Continent

Released in 2010, Gareth Edward’s Monsters was “the little film that could.” His debut feature film, funded for less than $500,000, it toured the festival circuit to great acclaim, securing international release and taking Edwards to the director’s chair for Godzilla then the first of the upcoming Star Wars spin off movies, as yet untitled. Though Edwards was not to be involved involved other than as executive producer, Monsters had its own spin off announced, initially titled Re-Entry then later renamed Dark Continent.

With its Scottish premiere in the Grosvenor Cinema as part of the 2015 Glasgow Film Festival recalling the British premiere of Monsters at the Edinburgh Filmhouse during the 2010 Edinburgh International Film Festival, Dark Continent was always planned to be a very different beast, and rightly so. Too often followups rest on the laurels of their predecessor, neither expanding the story nor challenging the audience, seeking to make a quick buck rather than genuinely earning it.

Directed by Misfits’ Tom Green from a script co-written with Jay Basu, Dark Continent is set in a Middle East war zone as Staff Sergeant Noah Frater (The Last Days on Mars‘ Johnny Harris) and team leader Sergeant Forrest (Fortitude‘s Nicholas Pinnock) take their squad on a search and rescue mission for four comrades lost in an area occupied by insurgents. Complicating matters, the wilderness is also heavily infected, alien creatures roaming freely.

The insurgency is the primary focus, but the vast and numerous tentacled creatures are also to be dealt with should the opportunity arise, a threat to the already precarious stability of the area. Having already adapted to the ecology of Earth, it is no stretch that the creatures have had little difficulty further changing to a different climate, and here they have thrived, grown to greater size and displaying new morphologies.

Seen through the eyes of the new recruits to Team Tiger Shark, Privates Michael Parkes (Sam Keely), Frankie Maguire (Game of Thrones‘ Joe Dempsie), Shaun Williams (Parker Sawyer) and Specialist “Inky” Inkelaar (Kyle Sollar, soon to be seen in Poldark), their first glimpse of the adult creatures is a majestic herd migrating across the desert plains upon whom an airstrike is called.

Having grown up together in Detroit they see themselves as family but they have been taught to hate and kill the enemy, the army the only option to escape the derelict slums they have grown up in looking almost like a war zone themselves. In a foreign land, they have no common language with even those who originated on the same planet as they; to communicate with the aliens is impossible, and what we as a species do not understand, we destroy.

Even before they depart on their tour of duty the squad are reckless, living their lives with nothing to lose, dogfights, drinking, drugs, guns and hookers, and they are brutally unprepared for the situation they find themselves in when ambushed in the deep desert. While the performances cannot be flawed, these are never people who the audience is invited to care for, too busy putting up a face of masculine bravado.

As a film, Dark Continent could not be more different to Monsters, a pensive meditation which was both beautiful to behold and always hopeful even when it could be terrifying, the characters of Andrew and Samantha gently growing on their journey through the infected zone back to their homeland, but where the first film was thoughtful and understated this is anything but.

Only when faced with unimaginable choices, all of them bad, do the survivors of Tiger Shark finally begin to remember their humanity, but while in the jungles of central America there was hope this film failed to pack that vital quality for this futile mission.

With the opening titles offering the only background to the infection in the same way Godzilla‘s filled in the long history of that ancient alpha predator, the monsters themselves are almost sidelined, so peripheral to the narrative that the film feels as though it was conceived as a straight war film which was redrafted before production to take advantage of an existing property the studio owned in order to boost its profile.

Crucially, while they new forms have developed eyes they have lost the sense of personality and intelligence they previously possessed, a crucial element of the Edwards’ film which he carried to Godjira. In the absence of that, all that can be drawn from this exhausting film is that the monsters, like the war, have become an unstoppable and uncontrollable force of nature and that the sun is setting on humanity.

Monsters: Dark Continent is scheduled for release on 1st May

The Glasgow Film Festival continues until Sunday 1st March