There’s a low-budget indie monster movie being released this Friday that not many people are aware of. It’s about a huge green lizard that emerges from the ocean to wreak havoc on humanity. Obviously, I’m attempting to make a joke; you’d have to be living under a rock (on another planet) to have missed the promotional media blitz surrounding the new Godzilla reboot.
Godzilla, opening in the US this Friday May 16th, is directed by Gareth Edwards, a relatively young and unknown cinematographer with a rather short filmography. But if you’re wondering what qualifies him to direct this upcoming multi-million dollar creature epic, look no further than his previous offering: Monsters. Even in 2010, before I started blogging, I was already a Horror aficionado who considered himself pretty darn knowledgeable about the industry. Still, Monsters wasn’t even a blip on my radar until very recently. After experiencing it, however, I’m wondering how I could have missed it (how any of us could have), and why it wasn’t a huge hit or at least a sleeper with a cult following?
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life form began to appear and half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain “the creatures”…… Our story begins when a US journalist agrees to escort a shaken tourist through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
Monsters is no ordinary Horror movie, and Edwards is anything but you’re typical director. Filmed over 3 weeks in Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Texas on a budget of less than $500,000, its bare-bones presentation is so effective it’s uncanny. All of the settings in the film are real and were often used without permission. All minor characters and extras were recruited on location from a pool of whoever happened to be around at the time. This approach made in-depth scripting almost impossible, yet nothing about Monsters feels amateurish or improvised.
Edwards was not simply the man behind the camera—he was the cameraman and cinematographer. He also served as the film’s editor and special FX creator. When filming had completed, Edwards returned to his home in Great Britain with over 100 hours of footage, mostly single-takes. The first assembly was over four hours long, but, over the course of 8 months, Edwards was able to trim it down to 94 minutes. He created all of the creature FX himself with “off the shelf” software including Adobe, ZBrush, and Autodesk. The end result is nothing short of amazing, an indie flick with more depth and intensity that 99% of what’s produced by major studios.
The plot revolves around photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and his boss’s daughter Samantha “Sam” Wynden (Whitney Able). In the six years since the creatures first appeared, Andrew has grown cold and jaded. He’s hellbent on getting some money-shots of the Monsters (who, apparently, are difficult to study since they only emerge from oceans and rivers at night). In a sense, the viewers are also on a quest for that money shot; for the majority of the film, we’re only given fleeting glances of the Lovecraftian beasts (a leg here, a tentacle there). All we can really tell (at first) is that they resemble towering octopi. Sam, for her part, is mired in a complicated relationship; it’s as though she’s on the run from the unrealistic expectations that have been heaped upon her. Together, they’re an unlikely duo of adventurers, similar to Joan Wilder and Jack T. Colton from Romancing the Stone.
The chemistry between McNairy and Able absolutely crackles, and with good reason: They were dating while filming and are now married. Their real-life connection translated into some amazing character drama that was so moving at times, you almost forget you’re watching a movie about extra-terrestrial monsters. Their transformation from partners-of-circumstance to something more is outstanding, as are the individual transformations that occur over the course of the film.
In addition to being a creature feature with a surprisingly effective budding-romance, Monsters is loaded with subtext. The battle with the creatures is symbolic of the ongoing war between human progress and Mother Nature; Man is essentially being punished for arrogantly assuming he has control over everything (and I suspect this will be a major theme in Godzilla as well). Monsters also makes statements regarding chemical warfare—and indeed war in general.
Much has been made about a scene where Andrew and Sam take refuge in a pre-Columbian pyramid that offers a view of the US Boarder, now marked by a barrier that makes China’s Great Wall look like a chain-link fence. True, there are no pyramids this close to the US, so it seems like an incongruity. But I think people are missing the point of this scene; it’s not just a pretty picture. Edwards is comparing the pyramid to the protective wall. Both are symbols of powerful societies. Since we know that the Maya and Inca both vanished in spite of their strength, Edwards is insinuating that even modern-day America might one day crumble, only to be reclaimed by the wilderness that surrounds us.
Monsters is nothing but the most skillful of filmmaking throughout. It never uses cheap tricks to produces scares, rather it succeeds at creating a legitimately tense atmosphere. We jump, not because we’re startled or deafened, but because we’re jumpy! In this state, the simple cracking of a twig is enough to induce a flood of shivers.
The only real complaint I have about the film (and yes, this is a REAL complaint) is that the DVD cover-art is as misleading as it is ridiculous. Believe me, people still buy movies sole based on the art (I do it all the time). If I didn’t know anything about Monsters, judging from the cover, I’d assume it’s some kind of Jurassic Park rip-off targeting teenagers or even younger viewers. It’s cartoonish when it should be foreboding, slick when it should be gritty. Fire that art director!
If Edwards was successful at utilizing his arsenal of skills, one can expect great things from Godzilla. If not, Monsters is still an amazing film—one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.
4 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Gareth Edwards|
|Written by||Gareth Edwards|
|Music by||Jon Hopkins|
|Editing by||Colin Goudie|
|Distributed by||Magnet Releasing