Notable Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Review: It’s amazing what $15,000 and limitless creativity can morph into. This little doozy tore up the festival circuit and gained a lot of attention along the way. Director Gareth Edward’s indie-monster extravaganza seemed like a mixture between District 9 and Cloverfield, which were both worthy accomplishments in my eyes. Also, it was incredibly well produced and the crew masterfully masked the fact that Monsters was made for next to nothing. The effects were crisp and clear, there was no hack acting, and the atmosphere felt enormous. In fact, the minuscule budget almost seems like a ploy Edwards is using to draw even more attention to his movie because it is so incredibly unbelievable. But, as Monsters proves, budget doesn’t matter when you create a movie as intriguing and enticing as this.
Monsters is a large-scale extraterrestrial film that takes place in the not so distant future. A NASA space probe that was sent to collect proof of life in outer space crash lands in Mexico. After a while, new life-forms start showing up and half of Mexico ends up being quarantined and deemed an Infected Zone. Both the Mexican and American governments have to struggle to contain the massive creatures that are now wandering the Infected Zone, and attacks are often made on the bordering cities. While in Mexico, a photographer named Andrew (McNairy) is given the job getting his boss’s daughter Samantha (Able) on a ferry around the Infected Zone so she can return safely to her fiance. But when they receive news that the ferry is only available for another 48 hours before being shut down for 6 months, things get botched and they miss the only safe way home for the next half a year. So guess who has to travel through the Infected Zone in order to ensure the safety of Samantha? Andrew pays off some officials and arranges for an escort through the zone, but the threat of giant creatures poses a realistic problem.
So what did Monsters do right and wrong? Well, what it definitely did was bring a heaping helping of creativity with a tiny bit of originality. This was a really down to earth monster film where the creatures weren’t just running around like murderous fiends, trashing cities and munching on pedestrians. No, these monsters were just trying to live and our stupid race was just trying to contain them. This is where it has the feel of District 9. The human race is treating the aliens like immigrants and instead of coexisting, we just keep em’ fenced in like a heard of some farm animal. But unlike District 9, the alien beings are these huge Cloverfield-esque behemoths that resemble walking octopi. This makes the task a little harder than in District 9, and creates situations like attacks on nearby cities. How do you contain something that could crush you under their feet/tentacles? So yes, while the story isn’t new per say, Edwards is still able to put his own twist on the plot.
The movie also relies heavily on the performances of the only two main actors, Scoot and Whitney, as we follow their journey through the Infected Zone. Sure, a few characters show up here and there but never stay too long. So, it’s important that both characters are both likable and entertaining. Which they are for the most part. I was drawn to Scoot’s character Andrew in a sense that he was as realistic as possible. Sure, there’s no flashy big name acting, but the film seemed much grittier having unknowns. Although a gamble, Monsters was able to draw out big performances from the film’s main characters which made the film incredibly more interesting than it could have been.
What impressed me the most was the combination of visuals and effects here. Again, stressing the supposedly low-budget, the film looked gorgeous. The creatures were fantastically created and looked nothing like the laughable creatures found on the Sy-Fy network (SHARKTOPUS!) that probably cost the same amount of money. But it wasn’t just the CGI, it was the visuals also. A lot of the shots were perfectly done and the scenery was well-fitting of the mood. Edwards shows a lot of promise for future films by the techniques and styles he included in Monsters. The cinematography rivaled that of blockbuster films with million dollar budgets, and in some cases even surpassed that. The more I watched, the less it felt like an independent film and the more I wondered how it wasn’t in theaters sooner.
I can now see why this was hailed as one of the best films at many festivals of the past year. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but worthy of a watch no doubt. There is a lot of heart and talent in this film by director Gareth Edwards, which makes Monsters a success. Some may argue enough care wasn’t given to the characters, but I honestly don’t think you could ask for much more from the actors. Scoot and Whitney hold their own on the screen, and I can only assume Edwards had a hand in that too. The film was beautifully shot, masterfully edited, used gorgeous scenery, and had impressive CGI creatures. Technically, this film was one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a while. Yes, Monsters was an acceptable movie in my view, but it only makes me more excited to see what Edwards can do with an actually Hollywood budget and the full resources to produce a blockbuster film. If he could create a compelling drama involving alien creatures while providing some commentary on humanity with only $15,000…imagine the possibilities of limitless budget? I will be eagerly awaiting Edward’s next project and can only hope someone notices this young directors talents from his directorial debut. Which they will.
Final Rating: 7 technical victories out of 10