Many people are going to compare “Monsters” to “District 9” (like me) and the parallels are there (aliens becoming an accepted part of human life, a man is in it, etc), but it’s a very different beast, or ‘monster’ if you will. Whereas “District 9” ramped up the action and gore, “Monsters” ramps up the walking and the talking – which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a poignant piece, that never once goes for the jugular, but instead pulls on the heart strings (wait, I suppose the jugular could be considered a ‘heart string’ – oh ignore it, you know what I’m trying to say) with its human relationship angle. Whereas the focus of “District 9” was the aliens, with “Monsters”, we’re very much concerned with the two human protagonists, with the odd monster thrown in for good measure. This is an interesting way of tackling what is essentially a genre pic – sidelining the monsters and only having them appear now and again to remind you that this is actually a science-fiction flick.
Talking of the monsters, they’re absolutely gobsmacking for a film with such a small budget. Director Gareth Edwards has commented on how he got into movie special effects as an in-road into becoming a filmmaker, and his previous expertise in this area is certainly apparent on screen. The eponymous beasties come across as a cross between a giant squid and The Brain from “Pinky and the Brain” – well at least that’s what I thought when I saw them (they probably won’t be putting that on the poster).
Still, they’re pretty much background players throughout most of the film, aside from an early “Cloverfield” type encounter and a swamp incident. Oh, and the end, when we’re treated to a money shot (this is an entirely appropriate term) that showcases the creatures in their full glory. The entire film builds up to this fantastic moment, and it’s a true crowd pleaser (it’s even a bit of a tear-jerker – if you’re a soppy wimp anyway. I’M NOT. I DEFINITELY DIDN’T ALMOST CRY).
Still, this CGI-fuelled moment only really forms a small part of the entire narrative (even though it’s such a climactic spectacle), because as I mentioned previously, it’s all about the humans. It’s also no ‘humans are the real monsters’ cliché either – it’s about as simple as they come – a man and a woman quite like each other. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill in that sense, but the setting and the awesomely understated (bit of an oxymoron, but again, shut up – you know what I’m trying to say*) performances by the two leads make it exceptional. Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy give it their all, and subsequently give us two fantastic turns that hold the attention with a stronger grip than there should be – especially considering not much actually happens. Until the giant squid/The Brain monsters appear anyway.
However, it’s Gareth Edwards that really stands out as the creative force behind this film. Not only is he behind the fantastic special effects, but his subtle, unobtrusive direction and fantastic use of a washed-out colour palette combine to create a film that has ‘auteur’ stamped all over it. I’m really interested in what Edwards has up his sleeve next – let’s hope there’s a least one giant robot in there somewhere.
If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that it’s just a tad too action-lite. I realise this is the point, but it’ll possibly alienate many people who are looking for the kind of event picture that the marketing may lead us to believe “Monsters” is. Still, if you can handle a film called “Monsters” which isn’t completely about monsters (for example, “A Bee Movie” didn’t have any bees in it. Oh wait, sorry, yeah it did. Scrap that.), then you should be ok. Those wanting Michael Bay’s “Monsters” will be sorely disappointed.
The performances, the effects, the direction, the script, the sound design (and everything else I may have missed) work together to create a monster movie with a difference – it’s never in your face, it’s always engaging and it’s consistently entertaining throughout – even though there’s not too much going on. Ignore the voice in your head that’s saying ‘I want monsters fighting each other all the time – I don’t want to see people walking and staring’ (you know the one, you psycho), and instead see “Monsters” – preferably at the cinema, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Ok, fine, I don’t guarantee it. Humour me.
Gareth Edwards (director) / Gareth Edwards (screenplay)
CAST: Whitney Able … Samantha Wynden
Scoot McNairy … Andrew Kaulder