When you buy tickets for a film called Monsters it can be fairly easy to predict what you are about to see. This will more than likely include terrible dialogue, lots of explosions, and a large muscle clad Arnie clone running around with his top off and filling CGI ghoulies with copious amounts of lead. But if this is the assumption you have made about this month’s offering from writer/director Gareth Edwards I am happy to inform you that you couldn’t be more mistaken. Monsters is a unique take on the alien invasion genre that proudly wears its indie credentials on its sleeve. Avoiding the big budget nonsense of films such as Independence Day and last month’s abysmal Skyline, Monsters instead uses those things all too often missing from the genre, intelligence, character development, and believable well delivered dialogue.
Set six years after the appearance of giant squid like creatures in Mexico, Monsters tells the story of an American photographer named Andrew who is forced to accompany his bosses daughter, Sam, through the restricted quarantine zone where the aliens reside and deliver her safely back on American soil. The aliens themselves form a backdrop to the true story of Monsters, which is a study of humanity rather than extra terrestrial life. Anyone expecting balls to the wall action will be sorely disappointed as the brunt of the story revolves around the burgeoning relationship between Andrew and Sam, played with genuine depth by Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, as they travel through the ravaged Mexican landscape, encountering people who have had no other choice but to try and forge a life in the shadow of these strange creatures. The aliens do appear, but one is left with the impression that is us, rather than they, who are the monsters of the title.
Like the Brilliant District 9, Monsters tries to do something different with the genre, using the aliens as a form of social commentary rather than mindless spectacle. Edwards made the film on a miniscule budget, travelling around Mexico with a tiny crew and enlisting real people to appear alongside the stars, then adding the aliens and scenes of devastation using Adobe After Effects. The majority of the script was improvised which adds to the realism of the film, particularly when Sam and Andrew encounter members of the public. Edwards’ decision to keep the on screen presence of the squid creatures to a minimum may frustrate some viewers, but it really does work very well within the context of the film and adds to the impact they have when we do get to see them. Tragically Monsters appears to have been marketed quite poorly, the trailers present it as something which it simply is not. A lot of the negative reviews have describe Monsters as slow and boring, but whilst the pacing is definitely deliberate, this fits the style of the film and helps to create moments of beautiful poignancy within a film that dares to break from the trend of mindless popcorn nonsense.
Review by Elliot Hyams.