- Rated R
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All photos © Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hose walking into Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” expecting a monster movie in the same vein as “Cloverfield” might be surprised to learn that it’s nothing like it at all. Not that it isn’t a monster movie per se, but it’s a different kind of monster movie – one that takes place long after the initial invasion that most films in the genre typically revolve around. It’s actually a pretty novel approach that enables Edwards to ignore the allure of highlighting the creatures and instead focus on the people adapting to life post-invasion, creating a low-key character piece that's more interested in the aftereffects of the attack than the attack itself.
Six years ago, NASA discovered the possibility of alien life and launched a probe into space to collect samples. But when it crashed upon re-entry over Central America, giant squid-like aliens emerged to wreak havoc in the northern half of Mexico, which was later quarantined and dubbed the Infected Zone. The creatures still inhabit the area, but that hasn’t scared away photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), who’s on assignment in Central America to cover the ongoing devastation. But after his boss’ daughter (Whitney Able, gets injured in an attack on the city, he’s tasked with getting her back home by whatever means necessary – even if that means taking the risk of traveling through the dangerous Infected Zone to get there.
If the reports are to be believed, “Monsters” only cost $15,000 to make – no doubt an exaggerated number, but that it was achieved on a shoestring budget at all is certainly deserving of admiration. Of course, when you factor in just how incredible the movie looks – from the gorgeously photographed jungles and mountain ranges of Central America to the impressive visual effects – it only makes the feat that much more remarkable. Shot with a skeleton crew guerilla-style on location over the course of three weeks, the film only stars two actual actors (real-life couple McNairy and Able) and features locals in all of the other roles. Between that and the fact that a majority of the dialogue was improvised, it really helps to keep the story feel as natural as possible.
Both actors do well considering they’re carrying most of the movie on their shoulders, and though you don’t see the creatures as much as some might like, there’s definitely enough to sell them as a genuine threat. Even when we do get to see them in their full glory, however, it’s not nearly as effective as the tension created from the unsettling noises and teasing glances of the creature that accompany Andrew and Samantha during their trek through the Infected Zone. That may disappoint those expecting more action, but in “Monsters,” the creatures are merely the catalyst to the drama between its two leads, and it’s in their relationship where the movie thrives. Though it stumbles a bit in its heavy-handed commentary on issues like immigration and war ethics, “Monsters” is still a mostly enjoyable debut feature that offers a fresh take on a worn-out concept.
Special Edition Blu-ray Review:
It’s not very often that a film this small gets a release this big, so kudos to Magnolia for putting together such an amazing collection of bonus material, even if there is quite a bit of repetition as a result of it. The audio commentary by director Gareth Edwards and stars Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able details the difficulties (and advantages) of shooting a film guerilla-style, while the 69-minute “Behind the Scenes of Monsters” offers a more in-depth, video diary-like account of the production. Also included are featurettes on the film's visual effects and the arduous process of editing 100 hours of footage down to a 90-minute movie, a pair of lengthy interviews with Edwards and McNairy and Able, and a brief clip from Edwards’ appearance at New York Comic-Con.