Tuesday 14 December 2010


Out now in cinemas is Gareth Edwards' low budget sci-fi road movie. Read my review, next...

Six years after a space probe crash landed in Mexico, the area is now overrun with giant Octopus like creatures. With a large area of the country quarantined off and methods of transport scarce, photographer Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) must find a way to get his publisher's daughter Sam (Whitney Able), back to the US unharmed.

When I saw the first trailer for Monsters, I was a little bit put off by what I saw. At first glance it appeared to be a Cloverfield/District 9 clone, dreamt up by some opportunistic studio executives. Since then I've read a lot more about the story behind Gareth Edwards' debut feature, and given the limited resources and budget at Edwards' disposal, this film certainly is an impressive piece of filmmaking.

I still stand by my initial trepidations over the film's trailer and marketing, and as for the title of Monsters; well that's a complete misnomer. Not much is seen of the monsters early on (only ever referred to as 'creatures'), as this film is more about the world they occupy and the people around them, rather than the beings themselves. People willingly live among the creatures, knowing their lives are more at risk but not seeing the need to run away from the threat. This is a post-post 9/11 world, where people have just become numb to the potential horrors before them.

At the centre of this film is the relationship between Sam and Kaulder. She's the daughter of a rich publisher, he's a photographer putting himself in harms way to capture that one shot that could make him rich. The creatures still remain largely a mystery to the western world, and the right photograph and story could earn him a pretty penny. Somewhat reluctantly, Kaulder agrees to assist Sam in her journey home from Mexico, but when her passport is stolen, they must travel through the infected zone and buy their way across the border. As you'd expect, they are a little confrontational to one another at first, but slowly grow closer from the shared experience they're having.

The two leads are played by Scoot McNairy (familiar to those who saw In Search of a Midnight Kiss) and Whitney Able, a real life couple who share obvious chemistry with each other. Most of the script was improvised along the way, and for relatively fresh faces, handle the material well. They may not be the most highly trained actors in the world, but after a few early examples of clunky line delivery, I was completely sold by their performances. They're assisted by being placed in some bizarre real life locations that don't require any reactions apart from the most natural ones. This film is beautifully shot, and you can share their awe at the derelict world they must pass through. Although Edwards has augmented the film to appear like the devastation was left in the creatures wake, a lot of eerie real locales have done the work for him. The destroyed and abandoned town close to the border was the result of a hurricane passing by, but perfectly compliments the film's feelings of unknown threat and destruction.

Using shop bought software on his home computer, Gareth Edwards has been able to construct some truly breathtaking creatures on screen, although they do share similarities with other sci-fi creatures of recent years. They are gigantic looming beings that fill the skies, less like District 9 and more akin to the larger aliens from The Mist or Cloverfield. They're slowly revealed to us as beautiful, slightly delicate creatures, and as the film heads towards its gas station set finale, the brief glimpses give way to grand showcases of the creatures, captured during some humongous balletic to and fro.

Monsters is a fantastic example of DIY filmmaking. Gareth Edwards knew that he wanted to make a film, so went out and just did it. He has a background in special effects that was an obvious help to him, but he should be commended for having a vision and going for it. However, this is a film that with all its backstory and budgetary secrets stripped away, still proves to be a compelling watch thanks to its gorgeous cinematography and likeable leads. I did find the backstory they both had to be somewhat unnecessary, but it's not something the film lingers on anyway.

At heart this is a road movie, and is more about Sam and Kaulder than any giant roaming Octopodes. It's an impressive testament to the cinematography that a film about the aftermath of an alien infestation can invoke feelings of wanderlust. Best summed up as The Motorcycle Diaries crossed with The Mist, Monsters announces the arrival of a real talent in director Gareth Edwards. An astonishing achievement.


1 comment:

  1. I liked the trailers, after reading your review I can't wait to see it now!