Monsters is a movie-making romance. Shot with a shoestring budget on location, and often without permission, the film is a testament to the revolutionary possibilities of 21st Century Cinema. Casting his film with whosoever happened to be around, creating his own CGI and FX and editing the movie in his bedroom, all with off-the-shelf software, British director Gareth Edwards has set a standard. Monsters is a remarkable accomplishment in itself but even more astonishing is just how good it actually is. Despite Monsters modest budget it stands as one of the best monster movies of the decade.
The reason is that Edwards’ film isn’t quite what it says on the tin. 6 years ago a NASA Space probe crash lands in the Mexican desert containing giant alien octopus spawn, since then the American and Mexican armies have attempted to contain The Creatures within ‘The Infected Zone’. But The Infected Zone and its tentacled residents serve primarily as the magical backdrop for Edward’s modern love story. American photojournalist, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), is instructed to escort his editor’s daughter (Whitney Able) across the Mexican border and back to the relative safety of the US – but fall in love as they traverse the dangerous, wild realm of monsters.
For the most part The Creatures haunt the movie unseen through distant rumblings and wails. Instead Edwards allows the film’s mythology to create an invigorating atmospheric hook, imbuing breathtaking locations simply with the romance of monsters. The wonder of a world of unearthly creatures, the fascination of catching a glimpse of the exotic or terrifying ; Edwards’ understated approach succeeds whole-heartedly in bringing the cinema into the dangers and beauties of a forbidden wilderness.
Some of this success has to be accredited to leads Able and McNairy. The real-life couple, and the only professional actors on set, very quickly capture that strange chemistry and tension of initial attraction and together provide the film with its simple, but compelling, human heart. Despite their character’s initially obnoxious personality foibles – we do end up enjoying their company. We never leave their side and through our shared journey, Edwards’ naturalistic style and that spark between the two actors, a real intimacy is achieved with the characters. So when the credits roll after 90 short minutes, you would gladly have travelled longer and further with them.
But where Monsters is at its most seductive isn’t in the romance of monster mythology or young love but the way it captures the boundless romances of travel. It’s rough and ready shooting, naturalistic style and real-life locations suggest this isn’t just a film about a road-trip adventure but that filming was one too. More than its creatures and characters Edwards’ Monsters is possessed by the joys of wanderlust: The real-life bustle of its people and places, dusty roads and dense forests, boats, trains, hitching and trekking. Like few films of this ilk Monsters appreciates the cinematic and visual thrill of a journey. Without pretension or agenda Edwards includes the natural beauty of his locations and skylines simply because the journey encounters them.
However I wouldn’t like anyone to get the impression Monsters is some soft, fanciful reverie without the teeth for biting. You don’t give the reigns of the biggest monster movie franchise of all-time to a director without knowing he can do action and suspense. Edwards may excel in capturing the fantastical and free-spirited atmosphere of adventure but it’s always underpinned by that suspenseful threat of his creatures. When we do encounter the monsters, and don’t worry we do see them, Edwards expertly taps that existing tension with all the playful psychology of a young Spielberg. Throughout Monsters, while remaining distinctively understated, it very strongly evokes the Blockbuster thrills of Jaws, Jurassic Park and even The War of The Worlds. Edwards shows, even if only in small glimpses and set-pieces, that, like his mentor, he has a great understanding of pure entertainment cinema.
Monsters is simple, short, sweet and offbeat. It’s a can-do movie that admires and aspires to the romances of cinema. Edwards appreciates the cinematic wonder and thrills of the monster movie tradition over the horror and violence and it’s a genuinely refreshing emphasis that could breathe new-life into the genre. Some remain hesitant about the inexperienced Edwards helming a blockbuster on the scale of Godzilla, but Monsters captures all the elements and details that have suddenly made it a reboot worth getting excited about.