On paper, La Pantera Negra has everything – at least if your definition of “everything” includes lesbian aliens, undead mariachi singers, a Mexican gangster take on God and enough tongue-in-cheek B-movie winks to make even Robert Rodriquez blush.

The film is asymptotic to meaning: as the film progresses, it gets closer and closer to making an underlying point and hanging together as an overriding whole, but never quite arrives. Director Iyari Wertta flings bizarre ideas at the screen, never anchoring them in wit, plot or dynamism, while the slow pace and catastrophically low budget end up acting as obstacles in the way of any kind of engagement. The actors ham it up appropriately, in one case attempting a poor man’s Owen Wilson, but the expectation seems to be that ludicrous situations should be enough to keep us watching. With some brief exceptions – the hilarious arrival of the alien, for one – it isn’t.

Tragically, the last five minutes hint at a considerably more accomplished film, both poetic and human, with parallels in The Wizard of Oz (not to mention this year’s season finale of Doctor Who). If only Wertta had given this seed a little more room to grow.

Maybe it’s the sun, sea and cervezas, but apparently aliens can’t leave Mexico alone. Monsters imagines a world where Baja California has been overrun with giant otherworldly octopus creatures who tear down planes from the sky and destroy whole cities. Kaulder, a press photographer, needs to escort Sam, the daughter of his newspaper’s owner, back safely into the United States.

@GuyLodge: MONSTERS (B+): Surprise package of #EIFF for me. Resourceful, great-looking hybrid of romcom, tourist movie and creature thriller. It works! ~ June 25, 2010

Visually, this is everything anyone could want from a monster movie. We’re in the post-Cloverfield shakycam world, albeit from a third-person perspective, and director Gareth Edwards has made the most of his visual effects background. There are no gratuitous CG shots here: everything drives either atmosphere or tension. The octopus creatures are carefully thought out, and the moment where we discover just why they’ve been so destructive is both visually and conceptually breathtaking. At the same time, even the smallest environmental details impress: this is a well-rounded, fully-realized near-future world.

Indie movie fans might be interested to know that the film’s leads, Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, are in a film called Everything Will Happen Before You Die, which just completed a round of funding on Kickstarter. Hopefully, they’ll fare better there – when it comes to acting and dialogue, Monsters unfortunately falls flat. Monster movies are never going to rival Shakespeare, but some of the Festival’s most wooden lines lurk within this film’s neat 90 minute package. It’s a real shame that the visual attention to detail wasn’t matched in character development or scriptwriting.

Nonetheless, if alien invasions, well-meaning B-movies or cephalopods are your thing, this is almost certainly worth a look.