Director – Gareth Edwards – 2010 – UK – Cert. 12 – 90m
Gareth Edwards’ remarkable feature debut is like nothing you’ve ever seen – out on DVD Monday, April 11th 2011 following its release in UK cinemas on Friday, December 3rd, 2010
An extraordinary film defying easy classification, Monsters looks from the outside like a cheap District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) but is actually something else entirely: a sci-fi road movie, a romantic drama, radical and inventive like nothing you’ve ever seen. Made on a shoestring in and around Mexico with a four-man crew and a two-man cast (plus anyone else who was around at the time), it’s the brainchild of former BBC CG FX maestro Edwards, who added all the creature effects himself in post-production in his living room. A remarkable, transcendent work, it hits DVD with scads of extras.
Pre-emptive titles inform us that a returning space probe broke up over Mexico scattering alien samples gathered during its voyage, resulting in part of that country’s being declared an ‘Infected Zone’, a no-go area for mankind populated by giant monsters. Some years later, Mexico-based photojournalist Kaulder (Scoot McNairy from In Search Of A Midnight Kiss) gets a call from his US-based boss to bring home the latter’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able). Failing to get her onto the last boat out, Kaulder must escort Sam through the Infected Zone and across the huge wall built by the US at its Southern border to keep the creatures out.
Blessed by both Edwards’ eye for finding the amazing in the seemingly ordinary and wonderful performances from its two leads, the quasi-improvised narrative is whittled down like many a documentary from mountains of footage. The director’s vision here extends to photoshopping his images so that, for instance, protective walls adorn high ground, wording has been changed on signs and, obviously, monsters have been added at key points. The performances and images carry real power, and the whole possesses a genuinely transcendent quality.
On one level it’s obviously about the creatures themselves, oversized, slow moving, octopus-like crustaceans. On another, it’s concerned with human beings’ reactions to them: photographing, avoiding, attacking. The brief opening shows the military fighting the monsters; during a later camp fire conversation, it’s mentioned that if you don’t bother the life forms, they won’t bother you (a line of dialogue added late in production to underscore a main theme, as explained in one of three Making Of features). In passing, landscape becomes increasingly important as the film gently explores the two leads’ developing relationship in a crisis-ridden world.
Watching the commentary (by the director and his two actors) it becomes clear just how much work was augmented by computers after the shoot. The Making Of’s throw much light on the film’s groundbreaking production process and should be required viewing for anyone considering entering the film industry.
The disc also contains Edwards’ short Factory Farmed (2008), shot in two days and considered by him more significant than his several prior years sidetracked working on computer effects. A testament to what can be achieved with meagre resources and a great deal of imagination, Monsters is a must-see movie presented in a magnificent DVD package. More importantly, it articulates essential ideas about the human condition and our interaction with the created order.
Monsters was out on DVD Monday, April 11th 2011 following its release in UK cinemas on Friday, December 3rd, 2010
DVD review originally published in Third Way, April 2011.