Today’s Quibble takes a look at Monsters and Valhalla Rising, two films about lost travelers… strangers in strange lands, finding their way. Monsters is a neo-realistic sci-fi movie about a future where aliens have crash landed near the border creating an “infected zone” between Mexico and the U.S, which two stranded Americans must cross in order to get home. Valhalla Rising is about an escaped slave-warrior and a band of Vikings trying to get to Jerusalem when their ship is thrown off course by a violent storm.
BP: So, stranger in a strange land… Monsters, the ultra low-budget road trip movie with… um… monsters, and Valhalla Rising, a viking quest movie, if the quest involves discovering HELL!
AS: Dammit, now you got lines from 300 stuck in my head. “Tonight we dine in HELL!” Which doesn’t really make sense when you think about it, cause if it’s Hell, then it’s probably impossible to get a table.
BP: It could’ve worked for Valhalla marketing. Where you want to start?
AS: Monsters. Get the “meh” out of the way first. And Monsters sure as hell puts the “meh” in monsters.
BP: Right… meh-onsters? Not sure how to say that one.
AS: Idunno. It sounded good in my head. Everyone was all a-buzz about this movie, then I saw it and was extremely underwhelmed. Just like Never Let Me Go, it took several attempts to sit through Monsters.
BP: Well, all I heard before seeing Monsters was that it was the next District 9… and that is seriously false advertising
AS: To be sure. That’s the same thing that roped me in, that and I like Scoot McNairy.
BP: What else was he in?
BP: Missed that one, but I did like him
AS: Again, also like Never Let Me Go, Monsters is a case of actors carrying an otherwise less than enjoyable film. If it weren’t for McNairy, I don’t think I’d have stuck with Monsters.
BP: I almost didn’t. These two people, who you never sympathize with, must travel across alien-infested Mexico (symbolism alert), for no good reason.
AS: Apart from him, the only thing that kept me watching was the hope of seeing some crazy monster action, which you’d think would be implicit with a movie called Monsters. Sadly, you’d be mistaken.
BP: Right. I kept waiting. Like “oh shit, I bet a monster will show up now and do something.” But instead it’s just improvised courtship scenes and would-be landscape poetry
AS: And I get the symbolism about who the monsters really are and yada yada yada, but Monsters isn’t poetic enough to get away with being a sci-fi tone poem examining life, the universe and everything a la Solaris.
BP: It wishes it was sci-fi Malick but forgot to make it interesting in the slightest.
AS: Much like the characters, Monsters is stuck in no man’s land between pure poetry and pure entertainment, to the detriment of both.
BP: I mean the plot, thin as it is, lends itself to some big time scares and cool action.
AS: Totally, but then the only scary thing about the movie is the lack of scares.
BP: They never come and what we do get is not that profound. The cherry… or turd… on top is the final scene. I kept with it, waiting and waiting for some monsters and when they finally show up what do they do?
AS: Make out?
BP: Monster make-out session. I mean what the fuck!
AS: That’s what it seemed like.
BP: Suddenly it’s a love story…
AS: Yeah. Lame. I get it, but I found Monsters misguided and misleading.
BP: I appreciate that this film exists for the budget and working constraints, and the FX are impressive in that regard as well, but all of that hard work and scrappy determination is in service of nothing… Grade: D
AS: There was a lot of potential, and the production design was great. I loved the world they created for the film, but in the end it was all for naught. Despite all my problems with it, I’d probably watch it again as an examination of what went wrong, cause it could have been great. Grade: C
BP: Okay, moving on to something with a little more ambition… You set it up cause I think you liked this next one more than me.
AS: Unlike Monsters, director Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Valhalla Rising perfectly blends entertainment and poetry. As we follow the taciturn warrior, One-Eye, on his quest into the abyss we get both action and introspection. I loved it. It’s like an existential Conan the Barbarian.
BP: I wasn’t as high on it, but yeah, this is much more of the poetic blended with multitudes of blood splatter.
AS: It’s odd, the sort of poetry-in-motion to the violence in this movie, simultaneously shocking and graceful.
BP: I agree with that, but I wish the blood wasn’t CG some of the time… that doesn’t always work so well. That’s a nitpick, but the films has some crazy good shots in it.
AS: I have a love/hate relationship with CGI blood.
BP: The director has a wacky eye and will shoot and cut at his own whims. It catches you off guard.
AS: I feel like Valhalla Rising could play well both at the multiplex for action fans and in a gallery for the art crowd.
BP: That being said, I didn’t care as much for the last third of the movie. When they land on foreign shores, the films slows down too much for my tastes. I thought that’s right when things should begin ramping up instead.
AS: Really? I liked it. I liked the feeling of mystery.
BP: That was fine. The thing was, I like this idea of what it might have really been like for the early Vikings and how this strange new world might have felt like Hell, but the way it was presented was a little too abstract.
AS: For me it went from action to thriller/horror. I don’t know that I needed One-Eye’s glimpses of the future, though.
BP: That too, part of those whims I was talking about. Like stacking the stones, and swimming in the river, and covering up in mud. I would have preferred more of the survival horror of which you speak. It still looks great, has great atmosphere, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before…
AS: I love the austere quality.
BP: …some cool bloody moments, a bad-ass lead character.
AS: Yes! Mads Mikkelson is great. He’s so versatile.
BP: Even though I hate him in Bond… more like I hate everything in Casino Royale…
AS: One-Eye is miles away from the character he played in After the Wedding.
BP: Haven’t seen that one, or any Bier for that matter.
AS: After the Wedding is pretty great.
BP: I am very much looking forward to seeing the next two Gosling and Refn pairings.
AS: They should be interesting together. Now I need to check out Pusher.
BP: Agreed. So, while not everything works for me, there are enough things here that are interesting and unique that make it something worth seeking out, much like the director’s previous work, Bronson. Grade: B-
AS: And I agree that not everything works, but I still loved Valhalla Rising for its look and subtle tone peppered with bursts of violence. I wish the new Conan looked half as good as Valhalla Rising. Grade: A-