Film Review: Monsters

With Gareth Edwards having literally just unleashed the world’s most famous lizard back onto the big screen and therefore, a potential cinema trip in the planning, it seemed to make sense to revisit his original work and remember how talent and a solid idea are more important than any budget, special effect or title character.

Essentially Monsters is your typical end of the world, the monsters have arrived and taken over story involving infected zones and quarantined areas and a distinct lack of humans within. However, while most films stick to the traditional story based around the “here and now” and man’s attempt for survival – 28 Days Later, District 9, Cloverfield, even Independence Day – Monsters looks further down the road, Monsters in it’s simplest form asks two questions – what happens after the monsters have become established? And how do we coexist?

The real strength behind Monsters though lies in the fact that it’s keeping everything simple. It’s not trying to look into deep and meaningful metaphors and layers. It’s not trying to examine every last detail. If you imagine that a large amount of films are like a book of fiction: taking the reader through the story, guiding the reader deeper into its world as it conveys emotions, ideas and opinions, then Monsters would be described best as diary. A simple collection of facts and events that piece together to form a timeline. And while that may not sound engaging, when it’s brought to life with the natural talent Edwards’ clearly has the end result is very good indeed.

It’s this natural talent, which means that potential stumbling blocks: the low budget resulting in most locations being used without position, extras being real life people who just happened to be there and not involved in anyway, and special effects produced in his own bedroom on a PC using 3D Studio Max, the final film is even more impressive. Honestly, at no point does this film ever look cheap. In fact, while I’m sure Edwards’ probably never wants to repeat the experience, a huge number of films could, and should, take a leaf out of his book with regards to just what is possible if you put your time and effort into it. Monsters, in a good way, proves that money doesn’t always buy you quality.

But for me the biggest charm with Monsters isn’t the fact that it’s taken an unusual twist/look at the apocalyptic genre or the simplistic questions it asks, but it’s in its imagery and the way it answers those questions. The movie works by taking a pair of innocent eyes – Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able – and guides them through a world and through situations, that have become totally foreign. A world of unknown quantities and it’s by watching their reactions to the reactions of those around them that we start to form a larger picture, we start to form out own judgements of how we’d react, cope and ultimately, survive, in a world forever changed.

What’s really interesting is the largest and I’m sure purposely, left unanswered question – who are the Monsters? Not from the sense of what do they eat, how do they speak, how do they reproduce – the fundamentals of life so to speak, but rather the question of are the Monsters the extraterrestrials or in fact us, the humans? And it’s a clever narrative twist played out visually in the film. Is our response acceptable, justifiable or extreme to the problems and adaptations posed by sharing our planet?

And while the questions and events of the film are laid so bare on screen and make it so enjoyable, what screams even louder is the visual impact of this film. It is stunning. There are times when some of the expansive, exquisite and almost atmospheric visual shots remind you of the work of Terrence Malick. Visually it just captures you and perfectly illustrates the position the characters are in. In the same way that a photograph can capture a moment of time and speak a thousand words, there are times when a simple panned shot shouts louder than any narrative ever could.

However, while there are huge amounts of positive, impressive and “beyond its means” film making on show in Monsters, there is one major flaw that I actually find hard to overlook because it’s almost ignored to strongly. The never mentioned, never answered and never acknowledged question of: why do they have to go through the “infected zone”? In the film the Infected Zone cuts Mexico in half covering the Northern half, totally cutting it off from the United States of America. And so, when they want to travel from South Mexico back to the USA, logically the shortest, but also most dangerous route is straight north. But why not go South to another country? Why not get a plane to Europe and then back to the USA? There must be more than one option – especially as Whitney Able’s character Samantha Wynden, is meant to be the daughter of a very wealthy publishing tycoon?

Don’t let that put you off Monsters though, just shut it out your mind and enjoy the visual feast and low budget cinematic triumph Edwards managed to bring to life, because while it may appear on paper – even the box artwork looks cheap to me – that Monsters is going to be a total let down in comparisons to other, similar films, that really isn’t the case, honestly, there is a little gem waiting to get out.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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