A road-trip romance thick with sci-fi circumstance, Monsters imagines a bizarro-world present, in which a NASA probe has crashed, leaving part of Mexico “infected” with hostile, rapidly-breeding alien life. The monsters—something like massive octopi that can walk on their tentacles—have been quarantined from the States by a massive border fence. American newspapers will pay high five figures for a shot of a creature up close, or graphic images of their victims. Enter Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a scowling opportunist with a camera whose plan to cash in on the aliens’ seasonal migration is foiled when he’s forced to escort his boss’s lost tourist daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), back to the U.S. border. He’s a mercenary paparazzo; she’s an idealist critical of his fuzzy morals. Opposites attract. Borrowing the handheld lensing and easy pace of a low-budget character piece, director Gareth Edwards, a CGI artist by trade, has created a dystopian landscape that’s so naturalistic, it’s uncanny. As a writer, he’s a less successful realist, resorting to some pretty hoary contrivances to get and keep his boy and girl in the same space for the film’s duration, and the largely improvised post-mumble performances don’t add much depth. The film peaks, dramatically and creatively, with an alien mating dance of astonishing verisimilitude. It’s a cheap-shot plot device, but also visually spectacular.