Writer-director-cinematographer Gareth Edwards crafts an arresting low-budget, near-future, sci-fi art film about a couple on the run. WIth a hint of “It Happened One Night,” a tequila-downing photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is ordered by a media bigshot to get his vacationing daughter Sam (Whitney Able), slightly injured by a creature attack in Central America, past the coast-to-coast Infected Zone in Mexico. Her fiancée awaits north of the border, now the site of a massive concrete wall to keep out a new population of aliens. “The Battle for Texas,” is how a TV news report is bannered. A trek and a tentative romance ensues. Six years ago, explains an opening title, a returning NASA space probe crashed in Mexico. Specimens in the title survived and multiplied. They are taller than billboards and flail mighty tentacles. Their seasonal mating cycle is about to begin and that means Andrew and Sam must bribe their way back toward the U.S. Under the pretense they are aid workers studying the extraterrestial mega-fauna, the pair make their way north by pickup truck, river boat and foot. Fighter jets patrol above. Below, monsters migrate upstream from the ocean. Like mushrooms growing on inland trees, their glowing eggs throb. Stomping on humanity is not really their mission. Yet Andrew knows that the New World Chronicle, a magazine run by Sam’s dad, will pay $50,000 for a photo of a child killed by a creature. His errand as an escort interrupts his hunt for a career break. Edwards also handles the remarkable production design and visual effects. Debris and signage tell the story. “Fighting for our world,” proclaims a U.S. highway sign. Homeland Security is repurposed for low-key allegory. Composer Jon Hopkins packages the sojourn in a delicate ambient score with no blast chords, just a quiet awe for the altered landscape of another new world. 93m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.