Movie Review – Monsters (2010)
2010’s Monsters is a sci-fi horror filmed on a micro-budget of less than $500,000. Director Gareth Edwards shot the film guerilla-style on location in Central America and Texas with a small crew consisting of himself, the two main actors (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able), a sound operator, a line producer, a Mexican fixer, and a driver for their van. Edwards did not write a script or storyboard for the film and instead allowed the actors to carry much of the dialogue and narrative, being sure to hit certain important marks in the story. The extras in the film were locals who happened to be around and who agreed to be filmed. Shot in three weeks with digital cameras, Edwards then edited and created the special effects himself on a laptop.
Despite its humble origins, Monsters feels much grander than it actually is. This is largely accomplished by concentrating the film on the romantic tension of its two protagonists who trek across landscapes both depressing and beautiful, and by only showing the monsters in rare but gracefully rendered and effective moments. Edwards has created creatures – really alien life seeded here by a returning probe – that appear to be a cross between the monsters from The Mist (2007) and something reminiscent of Cthulhu, and he manages to create awe each time they appear, including one scene towards the end that will remind any Trekker of “Encounter at Farpoint” (1987).
The creatures roam an area of northern Mexico called “the infected zone” which our two American characters have to cross to get home. This of course invites viewers to read into the film commentary on immigration, American exceptionalism, and even American interference as the locals tell our characters that American fighter planes agitate the creatures. Despite what may very well be valid readings, Edwards has maintained that any of these themes are unintentional.
Monsters succeeds whenever the creatures are present, and the landscape is reason enough for viewers to keep their eyes on the screen. However, the central love story is generally weak. Though McNairy and Able were a real life couple at the time and would eventually marry, the film doesn’t sell their story beyond some sexual tension. McNairy’s character is more developed than Able’s, but only barely. The actors’ performances are fine, but the narrative does nothing to invest the audience into their budding relationship.
Monsters is a quiet creature feature, especially when compared to Edwards’s next outing, 2014’s Godzilla. In that film the monsters were awesome but the humans around them were flat and uninteresting, and Monsters at least manages to make the peripheral characters feel real and interesting. Monsters is a better film and well worth the time of people who appreciate the lengths filmmaking can reach when so few resources are at the filmmaker’s disposal.