Sunday, April 17, 2011

FI: Monsters

UK, 2010
Directed by Gareth Edwards

If you read any journalism about Gareth Edwards's Monsters, you're guaranteed to hear all about how the film was made for a ~$500,000 budget by a tiny (by Hollywood standards) team, with Edwards doing most of the VFX work out of his bedroom. And you'll hear how, in spite of all of that, the film still looks as good as summer tentpoles made at 200 times the cost. I am literally obligated to tell you these facts as well, and have no qualms doing so because they are true. Monsters is a testament to how much you can do with passion, ingenuity, and smart storytelling, even without a $100 million budget.

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist who has been hired by his wealthy boss to retrieve his daughter Sam (Whitney Able) from the wrong side of the Infected Zone. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this film takes place several years after a crashed probe has brought a gigantic species of tentacled alien animals to Earth, necessitating the surrender of much of northern Mexico to the creatures. Now, they're just another hassle for the military to deal with, a further factor complicating travel, immigration, and commerce, rather than something brand-new and shocking. It's an interesting approach, as, off the top of my head, I can't think of another disaster/monster flick set not in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but at the point when its already become just a part of life.

Just about everything works here. The largely-improvised scenes and many non-professional actors add a good sense of verisimilitude. The story is believable, the creatures are relatively novel, and the effects are dynamite at this or any budget. Only when the film's political subtext becomes a bit too on-the-nose—especially the clear parallel between The Wall "preventing" the creatures from entering the US and the ideas of real-life anti-immigration groups—do the film's seams start to seem stretched. But as the focus is on the relationship between Kaulder and Sam, not the politics, this isn't a big deal. Monsters is a tight, entertaining piece of filmmaking, and certainly portends great things from Gareth Edwards in the future.

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