Wednesday 13 April 2011


Now available on DVD and Blu-Ray is Gareth Edwards' indie road movie with a twist. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Six years after a space probe crash lands in Mexico, the border between the US and Mexico has been placed under quarantine, the area now overrun with potentially dangerous alien life-forms. With methods of transport scarce, photographer Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) must find a way to get his bosses daughter Sam (Whitney Able), back to the US unharmed.

I'll freely admit that after seeing the first trailer for Monsters, I got it all wrong. I assumed it was a speedily produced Hollywood cash-in on the success of Neill Blomkamp's excellent District 9 (the similar poster campaign didn't do it any favours), and although it might be fair to say Monsters has taken some influence from that film, this Mexican border set alien drama really is its own animal... or perhaps more aptly, creature. Rather than relying on the overused storyline of a conflict between the aliens and the humans, Monsters is more about the walking of that fine line that's been established through our co-existence with these otherworldly creatures.

At the centre of this film is the relationship between Sam and Kaulder. She's the privileged 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 with convincing chemistry by Scoot McNairy (familiar to those who saw In Search of a Midnight Kiss) and Whitney Able, no doubt helped by their real life romance which was considered an added bonus during the casting process. They're also 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're passing through. Although Edwards has augmented the film to appear like the devastation was left in the creatures wake, a lot of eerie real locales did the work for him. At one point Kaulder and Sam pass through a destroyed and abandoned town, the devastation a result of a recent hurricane that assisted the film's feelings of unknown threat and destruction.

As well as being a unique cinematic experience, the story behind director Gareth Edwards approach to making the film is also a great one. Using a skeleton crew, Edwards essentially went on holiday to Mexico with his two leads, filming along the way with little to no permission. Then, using shop bought software on his home computer, Gareth Edwards was 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 see in The Mist or Cloverfield. They're slowly revealed to us as beautiful, delicate creatures, and as the film heads towards its show-stopping finale, the brief glimpses give way to grand showcases of the creatures, captured during some humongous balletic to and fro.

Included on the Blu-Ray and DVD is a relatively thorough documentary showing the unique approach Edwards also took to filming the dialogue. Partially improvised, Edwards instructed the cast of certain beats they had to hit, but allowed them to find their own way to them. Also, the layout of the film was never set in stone, so scenes were filmed numerous times at different locations, giving Edwards the opportunity to create the story structure he decided on in the editing room. It's definitely an unconventional approach that's worked with this film, although I can't see the studio letting him do the same thing on the next project he's attached to, the Godzilla reboot.

I do feel the film's marketing hasn't adequately expressed what Monsters is actually about, but that doesn't detract from it being a fantastic example of DIY filmmaking. Working as a special effects wizard-for-hire, Gareth Edwards knew that he wanted to make a film of his own, so just went out and did it. His background in special effects was an obvious help when creating the creatures, but he should be commended for creating a believable and often tense road movie. 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. It's a great example of a well made romance with some indie sensibilities, with the added flourish of some fantastic creature design.

Less about the Monsters than it is about the world they inhabit, this is a snapshot of a post-post 9/11 world where people have just become numb to the potential horrors before them. People willingly live among the creatures, knowing their lives are more at risk but not seeing the need to run away from the threat. At heart this is a road movie, and is more about Sam and Kaulder's journey than any giant roaming Octopodes. It's an impressive testament to the cinematography when 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.


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