Gareth Edwards’ recent Best Director win at the BIFA’s is both thoroughly deserved and a fitting end to a great year for British independent film, which featured the likes of Kick Ass, Four Lions and the King’s Speech. With rave reviews coming in from the great and good of film critics , there was a fear that Monsters could suffer hyperbole overload, with expectations being raised so high. Have no fear though because the film is so good it clears the bar. In three words A Maz Ing.
Photo journalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) agrees to escort his boss’ daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) from Latin America to the US border. But after losing their possessions they are forced to go through the Infected Zone, an area filled with alien life that crash landed on the planet from a NASA probe six years previously.
Taking a threadbare cast and film crew to Latin America, Monsters is Guerilla filmmaking at its finest, Using a non-professional supporting cast, improvised dialogue and hundreds of effects added in post production, Edwards has created a sci-fi tale with lashings of verisimilitude.
For such a meagre budget the film looks amazing. Using natural locations create a sweeping, cinematic scope. The effects are pretty seamless throughout from digitally altered road signs, warning of the Infected Zone ahead to a Great Wall of China style barricade protecting America. Although the Monsters are mainly seen in the dark, this is compensated with some superb sound design so they remain a constant shadow. In addition there is a one scene of such sumptuous beauty that it takes your breath away.
Despite the title, this is not a film about the Monsters, or an alien attack. Edwards has likened it to Afghanistan if Independence Day was 9/11. The sight of helicopters overhead or an attack on television barely raises a glance from our two leads. With corrupt border officials, poverty stricken families with no home and deserted American border towns (an nod to Hurricane Katrina?), this is a human story. In fact, there is a strong undercurrent that the creatures only become threatening when they are themselves fired upon or because humans disrupt their migratory and mating habits.
The now married McNairy and Able provide some wonderful chemistry in that their growing friendship and love seems natural. Actually looking like real people rather than FHM and Esquire cover stars certainly helps as well as the dialogue which presents real character flaws and a series of scenes which are not simply fabricated to create a denouement a la High Concept cinema.
Don’t let anyone give too much away. The less you see and hear, the more you will enjoy one of the surprise triumphs of the year.