The one level on which Dark Continent does succeed, is in replicating the trauma of war. For its audience that is.
Those who own the rights to Gareth Edwards’ breakaway hit Monsters had a neat idea. A properly admirable one in fact. In an effort to encourage creativity and to nurture new talent, their aim was to make a succession of sequels in the universe that Edwards created, and give each one of them to a first-time director. They then planned to let each bright young spark take the film in whatever direction they wished, with the one condition that it has to actually have monsters in it. These filmmakers would be free from following in the footsteps of their forbears and would be given the opportunity to come up with something unique and individual for themselves. Arguably, a lovely idea. But then along came Tom Green and suddenly that plan doesn’t look too good anymore. No, not the Tom Green of Freddy Got Fingered infamy, but clearly there’s something about that name that doesn’t bode well for cinephiles.
Riffing off Heart of Darkness (because no one has ever thought to do that before) Green chooses to go down the war movie route, as opposed to the love story/road movie approach of the first film. The central idea is a kind of Iraq allegory, as U.S troops battle a middle-eastern insurgency, who are unhappy about the collateral damage caused when the military tries to bomb extraterrestrials. As well as that, the journey isn’t just geographical this time, it’s also a moral one as the characters come to know the darker nature of man. So there is something new here, that’s fine. It’s not just a rinse and repeat sequel, that’s something to get on board with. But there’s just one problem: it’s crap.
Following a squadron of grunts whose vocabulary doesn’t stretch much further than “Oo-Rah”, the narrative meanders around endlessly, lurching from one unrelentingly dull encounter to the next. The first half does at least offer up some belly laughs (not intentional ones mind you), as characters spew out some truly magnificent dire-logue, but then things settle down for a torturous lecture on the ethics of warfare. A lecture that basically surmises “war’s not very nice is it?”. The film then proceeds to continually promise the sweet release of actually ending, only to withdraw its hand every time, continuing to amble on for another eternity or two.
It’s also insufferably smug and thinks it’s saying so much whilst it churns out student film levels of wisdom. After the 18th time it cuts to birds flying away from a tragedy you’ll be screaming for mercy, but no, the film has oh-so-many profundities yet to share. It goes through a checklist of everything “deep” in the cinematic language, just to make sure you notice its brilliance. And seeing as the film so desperately wants to be the Apocalypse Now of monster movies, there’s naturally going to be a bit where someone reads off a monologue against a black background about “horror and stuff”.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly when you’ll lose your patience with Dark Continent. A safe estimation would be that most will tune out after a bit where one character asks another why he keeps re-enlisting. “To keep my family safe” he replies. “Is that what you think we’re doing here?” asks the other. Look, an allegory! How deep.
One can practically hear Green shouting at us to analyse his film, but just in case you didn’t clue in to the fact that he’s basically the greatest auteur of all time, (despite having made nothing before this) he throws in a few slow-mo shots of horses running around, as well as reels and reels of people walking through a dessert, and all the ham-fisted imagery you can think of. As for the monsters that Green was obliged to include: don’t hold your breath for them to save it either.
Monsters: Dark Continent (2014) directed by Tom Green is distributed in UK cinemas by Vertigo Films, certificate 15.