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Movies Review

Monsters

By
Whitney Able in Monsters
Released on Friday, Dec 3 2010

> Interview: Gareth Edwards

The title conjures up images of sinister creatures battling it out across vast pixellated landscapes, yet Gareth Edwards's directorial debut Monsters confounds expectations from the get-go. The film, shot on a shoestring budget, is some kind of miracle - a piercing human drama set against the backdrop of a country decimated by an alien invasion six years previously. There are no Michael Bay-style explosions or outer space voyages; instead the lo-fi Monsters dazzles with ordinary people finding a kinship in extraordinary circumstances.

The action takes place in Mexico some time after a NASA space probe crash lands bringing alien life to Earth. The creatures, who evolve into giant squid-like organisms, only come out at night but their impact is clearest in the cold light of day. The wreckages of tanks, helicopters and military equipment lie on the streets; many buildings have been reduced to rubble and living conditions are deteriorating. The US government has also erected a huge wall to keep the beasties from breaching the border. Amongst all this, an American photojournalist documenting the poverty, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), is asked by his boss to escort daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) back to the US. Writer-director Edwards tracks the pair on the perilous journey through the infected zone, where they encounter the giant monsters, traverse barren wastelands, and light a romantic spark after a frosty first meeting. Kaulder's world-weariness and cynical sarcasm is balanced out by Sam's idealism and youthful naivety.

As the love story gradually blossoms, McNairy and Able's chemistry (they are now married in real-life) gives the movie raw emotional power, and Edwards's smart script elevates his science fiction tale into allegory. As Andrew begs (then bribes) an official to let him and Sam cross the border it becomes clear that Monsters is drawing direct lines to issues of immigration. Comparisons with last year's District 9 are inevitable, but in truth Edwards has crafted a more rewarding movie, one bristling with tenderness and dazzling spectacle.

Having cut his teeth in the world of visual effects, the Brit director armed himself with a prosumer camera, a sound man and the two actors to put together this remarkable debut. The production allegedly co-opted Mexican locals for extra roles, while Edwards and his editor cut sections together quickly on laptops, later decorating the scenery with visual effects from off-the-shelf software. The end result is stunning, blending the magic hour visual style of Terrence Malick with a Steven Spielberg adventure. A sequence where Sam is trapped inside a truck while a creature's tentacles probe around the outside is as nervy and tense as the corresponding moment in Jurassic Park.

Monsters might well be one of the best science fiction films ever made for six figures. It is so good, in fact, that it's probably the sci-fi movie of the year - high-minded storytelling ambition matched by honest performances from the two leads. This unforgettable debut marks Edwards out as a huge talent and one who'll likely find himself showered with Hollywood cash to support future endeavours.


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