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13th Jun 11
A journalist helps his boss's daughter back to the US through the alien infested quarantined zone in Mexico.
A space probe that was sent to look for life on the edge of the solar system has crashed back to Earth containing the very alien spores it was meant to look for. That was 6 years ago at a crash site in Mexico, and now much of that country is considered a quarantined zone with alien life forms now common place and a huge wall built along the Mexican border helps to keep them out of the US. Mexican and US forces constantly battle to contain the creatures, and the size of the quarantined zone is forcibly increased regularly.
Monsters opens with a load of night vision steady-cam footage as a group of US Marines battle to rescue civilians from a huge alien elephant octopus jellyfish creature about the size of a tower block, as it smashes its way through a few small buildings. Cars are overturned, people are screaming, and then one of the Marines calls in an air strike. Carnage ensues.
Once the dust has cleared the story switches to that of Samantha. She's the little rich girl daughter of a news paper tycoon, imminently getting married, presumably on one of those 'find yourself' pilgrimages before the big day arrives. Only this time she's caught in San Jose Mexico, and her only guide is arrogant and quite sure of himself journalist Andrew, who happens to work for the newspaper her Daddy owns. His remit is to get her home in one piece, something Andrew, being a serious journalist and everything, is nonplussed about, but valuing his job he agrees.
They travel to the coast to get one of the last boats to the US, and Andrew buys Samantha a ticket for tomorrow's boat. But then drink flows Andrew makes his move, and when Samantha rejects his advances Andrew finds company elsewhere for the night. Come the next morning when Samantha arrives to collect her passport, Andrew realises both their passports are gone, stolen. Missing the last boat, Samantha trades her huge diamond engagement ring for a guided escort through the quarantined zone to the US border, and this is where the road trip into monster land really begins.
You have more than likely already heard of Monsters, judging by the amount of hype surrounding it. And, as we all know, hype can be a good thing and a very bad thing. Shot on a ridiculous budget with a tiny crew of often just 7 people (including the two leads) in a van shooting footage randomly without permission, the fact that the movie exists at all is a miracle. Word has it that the script went out the window early with scenes just adlibbed, most actors and extras that crop up throughout were locals roped in at last minute, and all the special effects were done using off the shelf software in the directors bedroom. With that in mind, watching the film becomes an interesting process of trying not to overanalyze what's going on.
For example, that very dream like film school style of sequence with characters waiting and just talking rubbish while drinking coffee or smoking or twiddling their hair, or what have you, is used a few times, and once you know these sequences are adlibbed their pointlessness resonates, making it hard to stop you reaching for the fast forward. However, in contrast the special effects are incredibly professional and go along way to making the film work. We all know that road movies are in general easy to film as all you need to do to make a road look good is point a camera down it. But when you start subtly augmenting those shots with CG you can tell an altogether different story while still keeping the road movie simplicity. At the same time, you can hint at a society that's changed forever but is also strikingly similar. For example, pointing a camera at a bunch of Mexican school kids playing football is nothing special, but when you notice the huge mural of Mexican troops battling those huge alien elephant octopus jellyfish creatures in the background, the scene becomes much more poignant. And that shot of the Mexican farmers driving past on their cart is quite ordinary, until you see the huge jet engine CG'd on the back that they're obviously off to salvage.
And this is the world of Monsters, it's a real world just like ours with people going about their daily lives and everything, only there's the impending threat of attack from literally huge alien monsters at any minute. This is why the film works - its set half a dozen years after nearly every other monster movie of recent years. In fact, the only equivalent movie of recent years is District 9, which also had aliens on Earth and integrated, as opposed to aliens invading from the outset. The mood that that scenario consequently makes is one entirely different to the invasion cliché.
Despite its budget, cinematically speaking the film is well shot, and the pace never dulls thanks to the liberal sprinkling of alien imagery throughout any slow driving sequences. The set pieces, particularly the gas station sequence at the end, look great and if it weren't for the obvious SFX some shots could place the movie at any point in the last 3 decades, they're that timeless. The acting all round is quite believable, especially from the all the extras, that were apparently not actors just random locals. Scoot McNairy (Andrew) and Whitney Able (Samantha) make a good onscreen couple (which is a good job as they’re now married in real life) but you can’t help feel that McNairy is the stronger actor and carries some of the more intimate scenes, although some of the obviously adlibbed scenes can feel a bit pointless. In fact the only thing that drags the movie down is the occasional bit of inane running time padding waffle that, once you know some of the film was adlibbed, blatantly screams of being adlibbed. That, and the fact that you have to remember that this movie isn't really about the monsters, it's about Samantha getting home while these huge monsters hover around in the background. The lead characters never really interact with the monsters at all, especially not physically, and that’s a bit of disappointment
However, it is an awesome debut, it does look great and for the budget it's astounding. Its guerrilla film making at it's most contemporary and for that it has to be applauded. And, based on the strength of the giant monsters he can knock out in his bedroom, Gareth Edwards has been awarded the director’s chair for the upcoming Warner Bros Godzilla reboot, so he’s living proof that backyard filmmakers everywhere should never give up because with a bit of creativity you can produce some commendable results. Good luck to him.