Release date: April 11th 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy
Gareth Edwards, with his debut feature, Monsters, poses an interesting question. Does a science fiction film need to be heavy on spectacle to be enjoyable? Recent films are increasingly effects heavy but more often they fail to impress audiences when it comes to story-driven content.
There are no battleships, grand disasters or other such gimmicks in Monsters and the premise is a simple one. Six years ago, a NASA probe carrying samples of alien life from Jupiter’s moon, Europa, crashed over Central America on its return journey to Earth. Not long after, evidence of a new life form began appearing and half of Mexico was quarantined and declared an ‘infected zone’.
Photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) has been given the job of escorting his boss’s daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), across to the US border from Mexico. Although he’s there to capture images of what’s going on in the infected zone, Kaulder reluctantly agrees to see her to safety.
Edwards dreamt about making a film like Monsters for a long time since finishing film school. He knew he wanted to keep things simple with locations, crew and actors and set out to make his own feature capitalising on his CGI skills, and combining it with the approach he always wanted. Whilst on holiday he realised he could build his entire story around everyday situations and locations:
The story is the glue which holds the film together. When we meet Kaulder, he’s determined to catch his big break and he sees his time in Mexico as his opportunity. Knowing his boss will pay big bucks for money shots like the creatures or a small child killed by one of them, it’s clear what he has to do if he wants the money. At the same time, he’s not a one dimensional character, there’s another side to him; he has a son and longs to be part of his life even though the boy doesn’t know Kaulder’s his father.
When Kaulder meets Samantha, he sees her as a hindrance to his journey but his boss forces him into escorting her to the border. At first he thinks she’s spoilt and a waste of his time. In many ways, they both see each other as monsters. Their trek leads them to beautiful but dangerous places. Getting off a train in the middle of nowhere, they spend the night with a family who offer them food for the rest of the journey. They then take a boat which breaks down halfway across the river, before getting lost in the jungle.
During the course of the movie, as we get to know them, they lower their walls and let each other in. The glimpses we see of these monsters gradually become portraits of beautiful creatures by the end. The same can be said for the actual ‘creatures’. They’re only glimpsed, but the little we see of them makes an impression. Edwards, having grown up with films like Jurassic Park (1993), said he wanted to make ‘The most realistic monster film ever’. He also wanted to make a love story that didn’t make him cringe and a sci-fi movie where the premise wasn’t totally unbelievable.
The performances by Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy are very natural and believable, probably made all the more so because they are a real-life couple (now married), another thing Edwards was searching for when casting the roles. He wanted the actors to have a chemistry which was real and for the dialogue to be as organic as possible.
With Monsters, what Edwards has managed to do is bring together a very impressive film which adds something new to the science fiction genre while at the same time using it to tell us something about human nature set. Shot on a modest budget of $500,000, he’s put the focus on the story and his characters instead of effects and spectacle. Against the backdrop of a world that could one day be our future, it’s a stunning and emotional film.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .