PARK CHUI is roaring with praise for this low-budget monster flick.
Directed by Gareth Edwards
With its B-movie title, you might expect ‘Monsters’ to be in line with the other action-heavy, alien movies of the past few years. Indeed, the opening scene is filmed with a night vision, handheld camera; distinctly echoing previous monster-mash Cloverfield. However, what follows instead is more a refined character piece set in a sci-fi world than a monster hunting explosion-fest.
The opening credits reveal that a probe sent into space searching for alien life has returned, crashing into Mexico on re-entry. Soon after, alien lifeforms began to develop, and the area was quarantined and labelled as ‘The Infected Zone’. Six years on, Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photographer working in Mexico, is forced to escort his boss’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able) back to America. Following a rather boozy night, Sam misses the last ferry out, forcing her to journey home via the Infected Zone.
The central relationship between Kaulder and Sam is familiar and completely convincing. Improvising all of their scenes together, their dialogue feels natural, and this is no doubt the product of the actors being a real-life couple. In contrast to the predictably forced twists and turns in many films, the romance depicted is gradual, inexorable and utterly believable.
However, despite the focus on character, this is undeniably a monster movie and first-time director Gareth Edwards has crafted an entire alternate world almost single-handedly. As well as being the director and cinematographer of the film, Edwards created all the visual effects on his home PC. The presence of the creatures is felt in every shot, be it in the high fences surrounding major cities or the burnt-out tanks and helicopters that litter the streets. The sense of foreboding throughout is strong, helped by Jon Hopkins’ great score, in parts thrilling and ethereal.
And when we get to the final creature reveal, Edwards’ CGI skill doesn’t let him down. ‘Monsters’ was filmed on a budget of around $15,000 (Cloverfield cost around $25 million); yet the creatures animated here hold their own against the big-budget aliens of the past.
Full of political commentary (the wall separating America from Mexico is the most obvious), there’s a lot to think about come the end of the film, not least the debate about the choice of title. The telling hint comes mid-film, when we are told in an off-hand line that the American bombing raids have killed more people than the creatures; later, we see a slogan painted on a wall next to the dead: ‘Who are the monsters?’