So much has been said about this film, five star reviews in Empire and Total Film, glowing festival reviews, and yet many people who have seen it seem to disagree. Monsters has been hailed as the ultimate marmite film, and it is very easy to see why. Viewers expecting the next Cloverfield or District 9 (two films which this has been likened too) will be sadly disappointed as Monsters is, generally speaking, a million miles from those two films. However, the elements that make up all these three films are very much alike. Firstly there is the invasion, or in the case of District 9 and Monsters, the inhabiting of aliens on earth, there is the running battles between man and beast, the quarantine, the big scale effects, the human story at its heart, and most of all the love story. All these elements each film has in common, it’s just each film chooses to use these ideas in different ways. Monsters is certainly the least action packed of the three and I would imagine, to the viewer expecting a big budget effects spectacular, could come across a bit boring. Slow moving is an understatement, this film moves at a snails pace and concentrates more on the relationship between the two main characters rather than the Monsters, or “creatures” themselves. That said, if you go into this film knowing what to expect, knowing it is not action packed, knowing it is more a romantic drama rather than a full on alien attack, then I hope, like me, you will find much to like about this film.
The film opens with a rather impressive scene of one of these creatures attacking the military. Quick flicks between credits and monster attack work brilliantly to get your attention. The creature itself is very impressive too, a sort of squid crossed with a half spider body, and the sounds it makes are unsettling and quite haunting. A great opening leads to the aftermath of the attack and we soon learn that the monsters have been caused by a NASA space probe which crash landed somewhere in South America near the Mexican border. Soon after, alien life forms began to appear and the whole area has become a no-go zone for humans, an “infected-zone”. The creatures migrate every year, no one knows why, and they get frustrated at humanity’s interference, and so fights break out, much like what we have just witnessed. It would seem the aliens don’t actually want to make trouble, but have been pushed into a corner. And so, reading into the title of the movie, it could mean that humans are the real monsters?
Following the attack, Andrew Kaulder turns up, a keen photographer who works for a company that seems to pay more for photos of disasters and dead people rather than beautiful, happy occasions. Something which is brought up by Andrew with immense frustration as he goes around photographing the devastation with a painful look on his face. He is a character I instantly warmed to. He has been asked by his boss to bring his bosses daughter home safe. Meet Samantha Wynden, a young, very attractive girl wanting to get back to her fiancée. Knowing that this recent attack could help his career, Andrew is reluctant but soon agrees to see the young girl to safety. That is pretty much the plot, but what follows is a quite magical and enthralling tale of two complete strangers and how they come to care for each other.
With her boring life at home, Samantha is drawn to Andrews think fast way of life. Never planning and living his life as it comes, it’s a far cry from what seems to be a very strict and organised engagement. She is drawn to his protectiveness, shown in a wonderful scene where the Mexicans are doing everything they can to make money and charge ridiculous prices for ferry tickets out of the infected zone. An immensely powerful scene shows just how low humanity can go when it comes to making money. Knowing it is their only option, and knowing they’re rich Americans, the guy in charge will not take no for an answer and forces them into paying a massive amount. It is painful to watch, but also very true to life in some ways. A night out in the madness and hysteria of the all too real threat of creatures at almost arms length away see’s the pair enjoy some drinks and dancing, before catching the ferry the next morning. With signs up everywhere and massive metal fencing to keep out the creatures, there is an element of both fear and excitement in the air, brilliantly realised by some superb filming, loud music and an all together fast paced atmosphere. You can almost smell and taste Mexico!
Without giving too much away, things don’t go the plan and Andrew and Samantha end up making a dodgy deal and are forced into taking a small boat up river, protected by some dodgy guys with guns. We head into the “infected-zone” and into the jungle where the threat of creatures grows with every breath. It almost feels like we’re heading up the river to meet Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. It’s edgy, creepy and has a score that is quite simply out of this world. Going into too much more detail about what happens will spoil it, so lets talk about Gareth Edwards, the genius behind this movie. Now, for those that didn’t know, the majority of this film was made in his bedroom on his computer and the whole thing cost a fraction of those big budget Hollywood films. Edwards has basically said, you don’t need big bucks to create something really quite special which can look and feel as if it was made by one of the big boys. All you need is some creativity and the passion to bring your ideas to life, and he has done that. Like this film or not, you cannot deny that watching this film, Edwards is one of the most exciting talents in movies today. The look of this film, for how it was made, is breathtaking. Granted there are times when the creatures look a bit out of place, a bit ropey round the edges, but come on, give the guy a break. From what I have read, the majority of the scenery in the background was CGI but to see it on screen you’d never think it. The film is beautiful to look at, dazzling, with every scene produced with perfection and with a real skill and care that is often lacking in films today. Edwards knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted it to look, and you can really sense he has put 100% dedication into creating his incredible fantasy world.
The lighting gives off the mood to each scene perfectly. Bright orange and yellow during excited times, harsh reds as the pair come close to sharing a kiss, then there’s the dark and misty blue during a river scene that oozes menace and threat. Night-time is brilliantly realised, with the use of night vision goggles to help create a sense of panic during a jungle attack. Even pure and simple daylight feels at one point comforting, the next utterly terrifying as we look up some steps into the jungle and hear a creature roar. Moods are created and executed with ease by Edwards, and at times the whole thing can feel quite hypnotic. The music really lifts the film too, giving it an often dreamlike quality that creates a rather tranquil feel which draws you in and at times is quite relaxing. The music and the gorgeous jungle scenery add up to an almost meditated mindset at times and it is beautiful. You almost become part of the film itself. And with the central characters being so incredibly believable, you really get the feeling you are there, even the extras are fantastic. Sunlight bounces off cast members, trees and rivers piercing through the film with brilliant ferocity just to stop you being completely hypnotised, and suddenly the threat of the creatures returns…
The creatures are in the background you see, they are not the be all and end all of the story, more, they are there to help drive the story forward. They have almost become accepted; like they are part of the furniture, if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you. We do see them, although I will admit to wanting to see them a bit more, but Edwards shows them in an honest way and seems to want to show how alien life-forms may behave if stuck on Earth. There is a wonderful scene involving two creatures that is lovely to watch and kind of makes you wonder where Edwards’ loyalties lay, with humans or creatures. With the creatures always there, it gives the relationship between Andrew and Samantha chance to grow and the look and behaviour of the pair will constantly have you guessing as to whether they get it on, or don’t. The actors who play the characters are in fact, married in real life, and much of their scenes were improvised. They are a joy to watch and you do find yourself wanting to see them get together in amongst all the chaos. So basically what we have here is a love story that’s ok for men to like, and an alien film it’s ok for women to like and everything in between.
The film is tense, claustrophobic, hypnotic, unsettling, calm, unrelenting, fast paced, slow paced, it has a love story, it has action, it has aliens, at times it feels like a documentary and it deals with relevant and social issues. It deals with how it feels to be the one’s on the other side, the outcasts. It deals with how it feels to be unprotected, it deals with how it can be difficult to give in to your true feelings, it shows how hard it can be to break from the norm, and also how exciting it can be to find yourself in real danger. It’s a real clever little film that has hundreds of meanings wanting to get your attention. It’s an interesting film and a brave one. Most of all, and for me one of the best reasons to appreciate this film, is it is honest and true and very humane with its central characters. It doesn’t dwell on situations for too long, but still somehow allows you to get really involved and trust the instincts of Andrew and Samantha. The film is essentially a love story, and a beautiful one at that. I know many will hate this, and they have every reason to, but I like films which are brave, I like films which are different and most of all I like films which are honest. Monsters has all of his, it just really depends on how much you want to like it as it’s a film which demands you make the choice and it’s ultimately up to you how much you want to get out of it