Review: Monsters

Last year’s cult hit from director Gareth Edwards comes to DVD.

Certificate: 12

Director: Gareth Edwards

Screenwriter: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

Distributor: Vertigo Films

Running Time: 90 mins

Monsters is proof that it isn’t budget you need to take on Hollywood – just conviction. Gareth Edwards’ directorial debut is both a relationship drama and a road movie within a mature sci-fi framework, displaying the kind of creativity that mainstream filmmaking today lacks, as well as sophisticated visual direction.

After a NASA probe dispatched to the Jupiter moon Europa crash lands in Mexico, mysterious lifeforms emerge and force half the country to be quarantined, with the US creating a huge wall on the border to keep the creatures at bay. Photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (McNairy) is in the midst of this, trying to get a snap of the aliens, now fully grown and recognised as a threat by the military, in action. Instead, however, Kaulder is tasked to return his publisher’s daughter Sam home to the US, having been stuck in Mexico following a holiday and is at risk of being stranded for a further six months.

Despite the fearful backdrop of the aliens and the quarantine zone, much of the story focuses on the romantic-but-difficult dynamic between Andrew and Sam, rather than the enigmatic forces that fell to our planet. Monsters effectively allegorises the War On Terror, in the idea of attacking a force rather than taking the time to understand it, along with touching upon ignorance towards poverty and disaster.

You know it’s the kind of story that, in Hollywood’s hands, would be a CG-fest with MTV-style quick cuts and extensive battle scenes. Yet this is clearly Edwards’ baby through-and-through, a movie with an identity that doesn’t ever let its themes be lost in the shuffle, or break its subtle depiction of a country dealing with a foreign threat. The romance is executed perfectly, with spot-on performances from both McNairy and Able, who have an awkward yet wonderful chemistry as they cautiously travel through the quarantine zone.

Edwards has a Jaws-era Spielberg-esque knack for pacing and tension. One scene has the two Americans being transported along a peaceful river by the locals, with destroyed vehicles washed up along the shoreline – these images of violence offset against such peaceful surroundings are provocative, but there’s just as much meaning embedded within the real-world scenes of Mexico, which cleverly reaffirm how close-to-home the subject matter is.

Monsters is elevated by stunning cinematography, too, which has far more in common with something like Rian Johnson’s Brick than a typical sci-fi blockbuster. The poignant image of a destroyed town bathed in fading sunlight towards the end is perhaps the most spectacular in the movie, feeding so well into the eerie and desperate atmosphere of the setting.

This is arguably the most important sci-fi movie of the past year, more so than even Inception, in how against the curve of the cinematic landscape it is. Monsters deserves to impact science fiction in the way that Paranormal Activity did with horror two years ago – it inspires the idea that imagination, hard work and skill are the chief qualities a film-maker needs to create a high quality feature.

Monsters is out Monday on DVD and Blu-ray.