One of the success stories of independent film in 2010 was Gareth Edwards’ surprising Monsters. Where most low-budget sci-fi works wisely narrow their scope to keep things as intimate and contained as possible (think Duncan Jones’ Moon), Edwards went in the exact opposite direction and sought to paint a picture of a world after the landing of dangerous extraterrestrial life. And, despite spending less than the coffee budget of a Hollywood genre pic, he unquestionably succeeded.
The milieu of Monsters paints a picture where a returning space probe broke up over the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in biological contamination in northern Mexico. As such, the entire region has been deemed an Infected Zone after massive, strange creatures were discovered and fought in a number of military battles.
Now, the daughter of a publishing magnate (Whitney Able) is to be taken home to the USA from Mexico by a photographer (Scoot McNairy). After being unable to find passage on a boat, the two take the dangerous route across ground…through the Infected Zone.
On its (limited) theatrical release, Monsters copped a lot of flak for not matching its marketing. This is understandable as, while much of the campaign promoted this as an action-filled alien invasion movie it is, in fact, a very low-key road romance. The alien presence is both metaphoric and a setting to get these two characters into an extreme situation together.
Edwards shoots the entire movie documentary-style, using shallow depth of field and superb natural lighting choices to frame a beautiful movie that belies its tiny budget. He also draws on his extensive background in visual FX to not only bring the alien creatures to life but also to modify street signs and add background elements to create a rich, detailed and, most of all, believable world. Unfortunately, some of the dedication to this goal sacrifices other aspects of the film.
The movie dwells on the minutae of the couple’s journey. The haggling with locals for tickets and passage. The trudging through foreign lands. The boredom of real-life travel. This is matched by the evolution of the relationship between the characters, which is a slow-burn and quite contrary to the usual sudden passionate romances movies serve up. All of this contributes to a deliberate pace and a very threadbare, simple plot.
It would certainly be fair to say that not much happens in Monsters. But the richness of the environment and the delicate relationship between the leads, which itself has a parallel in the elegant final stanza of the movie, elevates the movie to a mature level. Quiet, careful and engaging, this may not suit adrenaline junkies, but is a solid slice of modern sci-fi.
Monsters is also available on Blu-Ray
- Cast & Crew Interviews
- Director Q&A
DIRECTOR(S): Gareth Edwards | COUNTRY: United Kingdom | YEAR 2010 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1 | REGION: 4 | DISCS: 1