Monsters is an odd mix of sci-fi/horror come road movie, with a side portion of romance thrown in for good measure. In tone, and indeed subject matter, it can't help but invite comparisons with District 9. Only it's better! At least in my own Frank Capra swayed opinion it is. Though I doubt other reviewers will be clamouring to call 'Monsters' Capra-esque, I think it is. See it. Decide for yourself.
Shot by director Gareth Edwards, guerilla style, on a micro budget, the film follows the fortunes of two people (strangers at the outset) trying to make it across the border from Mexico to America. They are hindered somewhat by the increasingly difficult circumstances imposed by some scary, large, extra-terrestrial beings.
The film is ambitious in scale, if not budget, and wisely opts for realism over shock and awe tactics. The big CG effects are few and far between, and mostly take place at night which adds a certain level of grainy camouflage. But as the fright factor is always ramped up by a bit of darkness, I'm not complaining. Most of the scares are in the mind, anyway, but when they do come, the effects are actually very convincing. They elevate Monsters far above the B-movie creature feature it could have been.
Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able
The acting is also far superior to the quality garnered by many directors shooting on the hoof, thanks to the talented couple at the centre of the film Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. Their on screen relationship is imbued with a pre-existing chemistry. Definitely a good idea to cast a real-life couple! That must have saved loads of time and money. They work brilliantly together too, more's the point. Real-life couples don't always click on screen, but they do.
As press photographer Andrew Kaulder, McNairy starts the film as a morally repugnant individual out to make money in any way he can. So why would anyone like him? Well, it soon becomes clear he's not rotten to the core, and he's got a touch of Steve McQueen bad boy attractiveness about him too. Able, on the other hand, plays Sam Wynden the stranded daughter of Kaulder's boss. Daddy demands Kaulder escort her back from Mexico to America, through dangerous alien infected zones. The 'It Happened One Night' set-up couldn't be more familiar, and it grounds the movie in realism. But if a better known actress, say Cameron Diaz, were cast as Sam it's easy to imagine her being played as a spoilt little rich brat. Able does quite the reverse. She gives us a sensitive portrayal of a tough, capable girl with many hidden depths. And the contrast between Sam and wideboy Kaulder is all the more enjoyable for it.
Monsters all comes together in the editing. The improvised dialogue is pretty sparse (through necessity, as the bonus features on the dvd make clear) yet it's effective, and the story progresses as much through mood as it does through narrative. With hundreds of hours footage shot, it was inevitable that long speeches, difficult to match in the edit suite, would be dropped. But with no rigorous script to work with, editor Colin Goudie had to find a different approach. He took the genius decision to cut the film like a documentary, a style that adds even more to the realism of Monsters.
Director Gareth Edwards has seriously achieved wonders with this film. Reputedly it cost just $15,000....Though I've always wondered how they work out these budgets. Does that include the hotel rooms and flights and actors salaries? Luckily, someone at Comic Con last year also wanted to know the answer to this and Edwards is able to fill in the details:
And that's how you make a film for $15,000. Just don't count the wages!
Regardless of the exact money spent on this film, it is clearly still a pittance compared to the millions thrown at Hollywood blockbusters. Yet it can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys without any fear of embarassment. Cloverfield can go eat your heart out too, 'cause Monsters blows you out the water.
So if you like the idea of an art-house, sci-fi, low budget, creature feature (am I selling it to you yet?) then do definitely watch Monsters. And try to get it on dvd too, because the extra features are very cool.