Written / Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring Scoot McNairy & Whitney Able
Much of the attention given to this film has to do with the minuscule budget the maker of this film used to make it. It is an achievement that Gareth Edwards was able to make MONSTERS for the rumored 15K, but more so it’s a testament to the advancement of technology available today for pretty much anyone with a camera and a story to tell. I discussed this with a friend of mine recently, though, that because of successes of low budget horror like this film, it gives inspiration to wannabe filmmakers with a few thou to spare to think their low fi schlocker is worthwhile just because it was shot on the cheap. This means there’s going to be a hell of a lot of shitty new films out there for all of us to sort through, but also it means that every now and then a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY or a BLAIR WITCH or in this case a MONSTERS rises to the surface.
But enough about the budget, it was cheap to make. Groovy. Is it worth seeing?
Yes, it is. Gareth Edwards is a true talent, not only because he’s frugal, but because he’s crafted a beautifully shot story of a pair of twenty-sometings trying to make their way through an infected zone inhabited with creatures from outer space in order to get home. The story is simple, it’s a simple quest to get home. So Edwards doesn’t have to linger on trying to over-explain things. If anything, aside from a few words at the beginning talking about a fallen satellite and an alien virus, Edwards uses the threat of the creatures as a backdrop and chooses to focus on a more important story, which in this case is how two people are falling in love with one another.
I know it sounds sappy, but this is more of a romantic adventure than anything else. Two heroes, one a pampered rich girl (played by the nummy Whitney Able) and the other a gritty photographer (played by Scoot McNairy), are an unlikely couple that would have never met if not for the fact that they have to make it through a dangerous territory to get home. This couple is extremely likable, though. Able is not a snotty rich girl that you don’t like. She’s more of a lost soul. McNairy’s photographer character is kind of an @$$Hole, but shows a more delicate side as well. In the end, because these two people are so likable, you end up hoping the monsters don’t get them (which is something I can’t say for 97% of most other big budget horror films these days). Take CLOVERFIELD for example. I wanted those @$$clowns to get stomped in the end and cheered when they did. Here, every time the jungle goes dark, I felt a sense of urgency because these two people I had grown to like were in danger.
Comparisons to CLOVERFIELD and DISTRICT 9 are being thrown out all over the place when talking about this film and I can see where someone would do that. There are giant monsters in the background a la CLOVERFIELD. But if I had to compare this to any film, it would be more like LOST IN TRANSLATION in that, as that film served as a travelogue of all of the sights and sounds of Tokyo, this film does the same for the beautiful landscapes and culture of Central America. Director Edwards does a fantastic job of shutting his characters the fuck up and letting the world happen around them. As a result, you feel enmeshed in this film. You’re there in the jungle. Among the ruins. Floating through the rivers. Though this might not have been the intention, after watching this film, it made me want to travel to Central America to take in these beautiful sights. The more I think of it, right down to the last scene, the similarities to LOST IN TRANSLATION are pretty shocking. Edwards has made a totally different movie, but if you go into this film, I dare you not to see some of the similarities especially in the end.
If you’ve been paying attention to this review, you’ll see that I didn’t gush over the blood and guts or the alien design or anything like that. This isn’t that movie. In fact, aside from the monsters being the backdrop of this film, I would hesitate to call this a horror film, despite the title. It is a superbly looking, superbly acted, superbly directed film, but those of you looking for space battles, chest bursting aliens, and over the top gore are going to be disappointed. But I would much rather see this type of film because it’s a wonderful change of pace for the genre. The creature designs are impressive, though at times, I found myself straining to see some of it due to the amount of darkness, but again, the tentacled-beasties aren’t the point here.
Some of the best horror films out there aren’t horror films at all. Here, the monsters are just as much set-pieces as the jungle and burned out buildings. What makes MONSTERS so good is that it has characters you care about and it makes you cringe when they are put in peril. MONSTERS is definitely worth checking out in theaters, if and when they stop taking up theater-space with pap like SAW, that is.