When Sci-Fi Doesn’t Need Spectacle

When Sci-Fi Doesn’t Need Spectacle

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
MONSTERS (Blu-ray)
Vertigo Films 

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 sci-fi film need to be heavy on spectacle to be sci-fi? Recent films are increasingly effects heavy but more and more, 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.

At first they both seem like monsters; Kaulder explains that his boss will pay out big money for a shot of a dead child and he perceives Sam as something of a spoilt rich girl. As their relationship develops, they move from animosity to empathy towards each other.


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. It’s a quietly told story which allows for the two lead characters to develop organically against a science-fiction backdrop.


Shot on a modest budget of $500,000, Edwards has put the focus on the story and his characters instead of effects and spectacle.

The rest, seemingly by magic, falls into place as with District 9 (2009) and Cloverfield (2008) which both relied heavily on us, as the audience, being able to relate to the characters and the events which unfold around them..


  • Audio Commentary
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Editing Monsters
  • Monsters VFX “Factory Farmed” – short film (5.38 minutes)

As for special features, the Blu-ray release offers a collection of featurettes that go behind-the-scenes; not just on set, but also taking us through the editing process and effects.

There’s also a short film written, Factory Farmed (2008), directed and edited by Edwards, which draws on the idea of human cloning for the future. Beautifully shot and already showcasing some of the techniques he would employ for Monsters.

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