Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over North America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear and half of Mexico was quarantined as an infected zoneWritten by
Edwards also served as the cinematographer, production designer, and visual effects artist. See more »
The Pre-Columbian pyramid the two protagonists climb is located in a jungle setting. From the top of this pyramid they are able to view the border between Texas and Mexico, which is nowhere near any jungle. See more »
Six years ago... NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A space probe was launched to collect samples but broke up during re-entry over Mexico. Soon after new life forms began to appear and half of the was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today... The Mexican & US military still struggle to contain 'the creatures'...
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Disregard the comparisons, and you may come out surprised by the experience
A week after seeing it, I still feel that Monsters was the most maddening film I saw at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. It had quite a bit of hype surrounding it, specifically around young first-time director Gareth Edwards and what he managed to pull off with a $15,000 budget, and ideas similar to last year's breakout smash, District 9. I stayed away from trailers to remain unspoiled by the potential genius at work, and went in with some fairly high expectations.
These expectations appear to be integral to how maddening an experience watching the film continues to be.
Monsters takes place six years in the future, after a NASA probe containing alien DNA crash lands in Mexico. Alien life begins to appear, and much of the area gets cordoned off as an "Infected Zone". Enter photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), who is tasked with the assignment of getting his boss' daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) from Mexico back to her home in the States safely. Regular boat or air travel offer no help, so Andrew is forced to trek through the Infected Zone to bring Samantha home.
Besides dumping any expectations you may have for Monsters, I immediately also suggest disregarding any comparisons to District 9 or Cloverfield. Outside of the inventive, overused hand-held camera-style filmmaking, the idea of alien segregation and the (significantly) cheap production budget, Monsters shares nothing with either of these two films. This is a movie all its own, that may owe a bit of imagination and drive to those films, but should not be compared to them. Both of those films offered a visceral, blazingly unique experience that few films have replicated since. Their ingenious marketing campaigns only helped strengthen the ideas in the films, and the Academy even felt District 9 worthy of a historic Best Picture nomination.
But Monsters will likely not have any of that. It is a very slow moving, very emotionally driven film. There are some action scenes (including a rather amazingly well done opening scene, shot entirely through night vision), but the majority of the film is spent focused on the relationship between Andrew and Samantha, and is frequently very quiet. A comparison to a film like Before Sunrise/Before Sunset is not totally out of the question here – you just need to add aliens. Hopefully this more apt comparison does not turn off intrigued viewers, although it may attract more. But it likely will drop anyone's expectations significantly. I know I was not prepared to watch an indie drama, but that is much closer a description to what it actually is.
This is where the problem I had with the film lies. Because it spends so much time on the two characters, it frequently feels very dragged out and boring. I was interested in the plight of Andrew and Samantha from the beginning, but by the end of the film, I really felt like I could care less. There is an emotional drive at work throughout the film that really feels punctuated in some heartwrenching scenes. But the film never seems able to engage the viewer for more than a few instants, before reverting to drawn out, lingering shots and emphasized silence. It makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience in some spots as you wait for the science fiction/horror elements to take over, but also because you just cannot decide whether you should continue watching or just move onto something else.
The actors themselves are both rather great, bringing emotional and authentic notions to their characters. We never really learn much about either character outside of a few minute details, but we do get to see them grow as people desperate to find their way in the world. Despite their undeniable chemistry (the pair were dating at the time of filming and are now expecting a child at the time of the festival screening), I found McNairy's performance to be the stronger of the two. He gets the most dialogue, and bares the majority of the emotional brunt throughout the film, and the toll it takes on him shows right through in the last half of the film. This is not to say Able does not perform excellently – her long, silent stares just do not have the emotional depth of the major moments for McNairy.
Complaints and disappointments aside, the real reason for any hype whatsoever is the beauty and horror captured on camera. The film is very gritty and real, and for good reason. The sets are all taken from real places, and the extras are local people in these areas. When we see decimated buildings and towns which the film blames the aliens for, we are actually looking at real areas that look like this in various parts of the world. But when they are captured as merely a background for our characters to walk past or interact with, there is a still beauty that only a film this cheap could capture. It makes for rather horrific sights in most cases, but just the sheer magnitude of what Edwards captures on film is enough to make you reconsider any wavering thoughts you had on the film.
The special effects, used very sparingly and subtly, are absolutely magnificent for what the budget allows. They do not have the slick Hollywood shine, but they are rather incredible to see in action anyway. Edwards did most of, if not all, the work himself, and the labour that went into creating the effects is not lost in its transition to the big screen.
Monsters remains a maddening experience for me because while I will incur that I was incredibly disappointed by it, I have also come to appreciate what Edwards was able to do with such a small amount of money. Go in with small expectations, and you just may come out surprised by the experience.
(An edited version of this review also appeared on http://www.geekspeakmagazine.com).
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