Newest Review: ... by the title, and expect something akin to a Godzilla movie, then you are going to be sorely disappointed. Take it on its own merits, tho... more
IS THAT A MONSTER COMING OVER THE HILL?
Monsters  (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Monsters  (DVD)
Advantages: Innovative, stunning audio and visuals
Disadvantages: Weak story overall
I came to this movie with not many preconceptions since I knew very little about it. I did know that it was critically acclaimed and that it had been compared to 'Cloverfield' and 'District 9' two films I have seen and enjoyed so I was at the very least intrigued to see what all the fuss was about.
In many ways 'Monsters' might well represent the future of film in an increasingly competitive market under pressure from pirated copies and illegal downloads which the big studio at least is severely denting their profits. In making 'Monsters' young British director and writer Gareth Edwards has proved that you can make an intelligent, CGI packed sci-fi film that looks and sound good using only a few bits of cardboard and some sticky back plastic...well maybe that's a slight exaggeration but with a budget of less than a million dollars we are talking very low budget for a movie of this type and certainly it wouldn't even cover the acting fees of one of the supporting cast of any Hollywood blockbuster.
The film is set in the near future a time after 'first contact' has taken place. Six years earlier a NASA probe that was launched to look for alien life on one of Jupiter's moon on return crash lands in the jungles of Central America. Soon the land is overrun with alien creatures. In an effort to control the spread of the aliens the US and Mexican governments declare a large part of Mexico as an 'Infected Zone'. It is an ongoing struggle to contain the creatures to this area. In the middle of all this an American photo journalist Andrew Kaulder reluctantly agrees to help a young woman tourist Samantha Wynden who is also the daughter of the magazine he works for to leave the threatened part of Mexico and reach the safety of the US border. Since the coastal town they are in is about to be blockaded later the next day they have to board last ferry leaving of for the US at 7 am that morning, but not all goes to plan.
THE CAST & DETAILS
Samantha Wynden.... Whitney Able
Andrew Kaulder ....Scott McNairy
Run time : 94min
UK certificate: 12A
The film is an excellent example of what can be achieved on a small budget using the up to date CGI technology that is fast becoming available to all filmmakers and more importantly an imaginative story and creative direction. The look of the movie belies its modest expenditure. It mostly filmed by a small crew consisting of only four people using hand held cameras on location in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize the special effect later being added in a London. Partly through budget constraint and partly to achieve an ultra realistic quality to the story all the cast comprises of only two professional actors in the lead roles with all the others being people that the filmmakers co-opted on the way. Of course this isn't new the Italian neorealist filmmakers in the 40's and 50's like Rossellini and De Sica or more recently Ken Loach used this same method of making films to extract the essential honesty of the stories from ordinary people in the roles. The theory works and the performances on show have that honest quality to them that is very difficult to get from an experienced actor. Much of the dialogue is apparently ad-libbed which also add to the naturalistic style of the film. The two lead actors are excellent in their roles Scott Mcnairy especially giving a convincing performance as the slightly jaded journalist paid to take pictures of the effects of the aliens. Neither of the lead characters are particularly sympathetic, to begin with Samantha being a spoil rich daddy's girl, (what is she doing on holiday in such a dangerous area of Mexico?) and Kaulder is arrogant and smug but as the film progresses we gradually warm to them.
Although the film was widely marketed as a sci-fi 'monster' movie in the mould 'Cloverfield' it simply isn't that at all. The monsters are in the background, simply a backdrop for a part romance, part road movie, if you can have a road movie set mostly on a river. Many coming to see this film with expectations of the Hollywood style monster sci-fi blockbuster will be disappointed, this is better than that. The two central character growing relationship is dealt with sensitively and with measured pace. We find out they both have baggage, she engaged to be married to a man she doesn't love and he with a young child who doesn't know him as his father. There are some genuinely moving scenes as both these scenarios are explored in the course of the story.
Apart from the central love story the film is also an obvious satire of US perspectives on immigration, just like 'District 9' was commenting on apartheid. In the story the US have built a huge wall, the 'largest man made structure ever built' along its border with Mexico to keep the unwanted 'aliens' out of it territory... sounds familiar! The political points being made are obvious but still worth making. There are powerful visual of the destruction that both the monsters and the US air raids have wrecked on the infected towns and as always there are innocent casualties. The film makes the point that even in these tragic circumstances images of war and death are yet another commodity that is bought and sold for profit.
Overall this is a very interesting film, with great production values despite its restricted budget, but it's not perfect. The visual and audio landscape is excellent many of the scenes of the river had the same eerie quality that Coppola and Herzog instilled into 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Fitzcarraldo' respectively, praise indeed. However what lets the film down slightly is the overall story arc. The film is full of tension skilfully built up but in the end fails to deliver on some levels.
And finally what of the monsters? Well I'm not giving much away by saying that all good aliens need tentacles and we have abundance here. They are not the most sophisticated or scary film monsters ever but they are vividly brought to life on screen and are quite beautiful to look at especially in the last few scenes.
So we have an excellent debut by a bright new director, let's hope that the money that will inevitably be thrown at him by big studios for his next project won't spoil his inventiveness and creativity.
'Monsters' can be bought from Amazon UK for £5.00 with free delivery at the time this review was written.
Summary: Sc-fi/romantic/road movie, made with small budget but with high production values.