December 9, 2010
There are two ways to look at the film Monsters by Gareth Edwards: the first, cold, with absolutely no knowledge of its making; the second having seen and heard interviews with Gareth Edwards. I’ll talk about it from both angles. First, cold.
Monsters starts with the sort of exposition that is not usually a good sign, a couple of sentences typed on the screen explaining that a NASA probe crashed, carrying alien life, into Mexico, which has become the quarantined Infected Zone. The first few minutes are then reminiscent of Cloverfield, with soldiers attacking a huge alien monster, lots of night vision and chaos and guns. In fact, rather than an irritating dump of exposition these first few scenes are brilliant, because they set up the film, get it all out of the way, and let the real story come to the fore. That story is about a journalist photographer, Kaulder, who is ordered to escort his boss’s daughter, Sam, home safely.
What follows is a romantically tinged, beautifully shot, moving, Science Fiction road movie, with multiple allegories. It’s not fast paced, but it has action sequences, it lingers on beautiful scenery (terrestrial or otherwise) and lingers on the emotion of its main characters.
The infected zone can be seen as a comment on immigration into the USA, or the state of the war in Afghanistan. Either way it shows the impact on real people and real lives.
It’s refreshing and incredibly enjoyable. As soon as it finished I wanted to see it again. Highly recommended, not just for Science Fiction fans but also for those people who (misguidedly) avoid SF for fear of Spaceships and Aliens. It will win them over.
And then, if you know something about the making of the film….
…it’s even more remarkable.
It was made for $200,000, with a crew of, more or less, four people: the two principle actors, a soundman and Gareth Edwards the director and writer. It was shot in a guerrilla style, as the crew travelled through Central America, grabbing locals to appear in the film. All the special effects were done by Gareth, who previously worked in visual effects: this is the source of the “he did the effects in his bedroom” quote, which actually he did, but as Gareth points out, the only difference between that and doing it in an office is the location. Still, the special effects are superb. The signs for the Infected Zone which litter the story were real signs, but their contents were changed, as was graffiti and helicopters and jets. Much of it is impossible to distinguish, so I have no idea whether some of those buildings were really trashed or not. It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that Gareth Edwards has created a truly immersive realistic SF world. Forget all the hype about the awful Avatar and it's immersiveness, Monsters is how you create a believable Science Fiction film.
Hopefully it’s an inspiration for other directors to go the independent route and create something marvellous. Meanwhile Gareth Edwards has now been funded for his next film, also Science Fiction, and I can’t wait to see it.