Sunday, 12 December 2010

Film Review: Monsters

If you were to listen to the everyman on the street who has seen Monsters, you would probably be told that it's not a film worth seeing. Why? "Because there aren't any monsters!". Indeed, for a film whose very title appears to promise grotesque creatures from our nightmares, Monsters bewilderingly features very few of them. However, to chastise this film on the basis that it does not permeate US military hardware taking on vicious monstrosities would be both wrong and idiotic.

Six years ago NASA launched a probe to collect samples of what it believed to be alien life in our solar system. When the probe carrying said samples crash lands upon re-entry over Central America, new life forms began to propagate in the area. In efforts to quell the ensuing destruction, the US and Mexican militaries quarantine half of Mexico in an 'Infected Zone'. As they struggle to contain the huge creatures, the story follows an American photojournalist, Kaulder (McNairy), who is tasked by his boss to escort his daughter Sam (Able) across the infected zone and back to the States. What ensues is a taut road trip under which a diffident romance evolves.

It is worth pointing out that Monsters was filmed on a production budget of some $15,000, one camera and only two professional actors. As shoestring movies go, Monsters transcends all expectations on what was previously thought possible. Since its premier at Cannes, Brit director Gareth Edwards has been the talk of Hollywood, even being touted as the next Neill Blomkamp. Films of this nature are never about big budget effects, cheap scares or other independent film cliches. They survive on their ideas, especially on those that can transcend their physical limitations. For Monsters, the film is about two people and their experiences as they are forced to adapt to a new reality. Such is the empathy that you gain for the characters that you actually care about their fait. In this sense then, the old cliches of gore and explosions become unnecessary.

Forming that required emotional connection between the audience and the characters had one extra thing going for it; both actors McNairy and Able are actually a real life couple. It is immediately obvious to  see the chemistry between the two and so their relationship becomes absorbingly believable. Further, most of the acting is improvised, as is the dialogue. Everyone else in the film is a regular person, as Edwards gained the participation Mexican locals to fill in supporting roles, adding a somewhat natural and more realistic quality to the narrative.

Making an indie road-movie romance isn't particularly novel. But Edwards goes beyond, creating a road-movie romance against a desolate backdrop of cataclysmic events, supported by barren landscapes peppered with rusting husks of military hardware as jellyfish-like creatures towering several hundred metres into the sky glide majestically across the panorama. This world - created with commercial software on a laptop - is just as believable as the human relationship at the centre of the film.

What Edwards has achieved here is phenomenal and should be commended for what it is rather than denounced for what it isn't. For those who expected something else I have no sympathy and can only offer the advise to make sure you read about what you're going to see beforehand. In such a way, I would strongly suggest you don't listen to those who criticise it for the above reasons. Monsters is a great film and if you want added incentive to go and see it, there features one of the best sex scenes you will see all year.