There’s nothing we like more at the moment than a good monster movie. If we assume that supply typically meets demand, then we can be pretty damn certain that with all the high-concept extraterrestrial creature features vying for our attention just lately, somebody’s paying to see them. Not to be left behind then, us plucky Brits have waded in after Hollywood with our own imaginatively entitled offering, Monsters (2010).
The directorial debut of special effects whiz-kid Gareth Edwards, Monsters is set in a fictionally-skewed alternative of our own present, in which a crashed space probe has seeded a substantial area of Central America with alien life. Overrun with gigantic, other-worldly creatures, the area has been declared an ‘infected zone’ and the perimeter fenced off. The story follows stranded couple Samantha and Andrew (Whitney Able and Scoot Mcnairy) as they are forced to venture through the cordoned-off area in order to reach their homes in America.
Comparisons to far more successful forebears such as Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) have been unavoidable and a common basis for criticism. However, Monsters operates almost nothing like any of its contemporaries. While the driving momentum behind many big creature features is usually spectacle (and why wouldn’t it be?) – particularly in the final reveal – Edwards has something more subtle in mind, subverting what is an arguably explicit title by focusing on the evolving relationship between the two protagonists instead of the titular beasties.
Whether or not you consider the apparent lack of ‘monsters’ a glaring misnomer or a shrewd and refreshing approach to an over-crowded genre will come down to personal taste. While they’re rarely to be seen flattening sky-scapers Godzilla-stylee, the presence of these creatures in the film is nonetheless tangible, in the brooding sense of threat that they impress upon the narrative; the obstacle and danger they present the lynch pin upon which the development of the characters hangs.
It would be a little niave to assume that this approach was all intentional, and not due in many respects to budgetary contraints, but to fault it on this point would be to forget that old adage about necessity being the mother of invention. What Edwards has achieved with this film is an interesting, character-driven drama, layered with a slightly deeper political commentary and a few forty foot high, betentacled monstrosities throwing 4×4’s around like Dinky cars. It’s not often you see the three blended convincingly – it’s no mean feat – but Monsters seems to just about carry it off; the political stuff never really feels like it’s batting you about the head, the characters are believable and the monsters themselves coy enough that their presence represents a genuine intrigue rather than a yawn-some mundanity by the final act.
Probably not for everyone, Monsters is more of the thinking man’s approach sci-fi to than others and will likely be more than welcome if you found yourself turned off by titles like Skyline (2010). It’s certainly one of those films that will appeal to those interested in the film-making process, as the story of its conception and production undoubtedly make the film far more appreciable from a technical and artistic standpoint. Sure to enter the cult sci-fi canon among many others, Monsters has certainly earned such a place and is without question an achievement in its own right.