When bashing out the special FX for Monsters, the commute for Gareth Edwards was all of two yards from his bed to his computer. At least that’s what it looked like in a recent TV interview with movie brain and critic named after a portable shithouse, Mark Kermode.
Some job. I do a similar thing when writing reviews. Except my methodology usually involves staying in the bed, rather than getting out of it. If my arms were longer, like the big tentacles of the titular beasties of the movie, it’d be much easier. I could probably laze around under the sheets, my wriggly arms tapping out a review on my laptop whilst another tentacle gets busy cracking open a brewski.
Gareth Edwards has been a lot more proactive. Which is why he’s a movie maker, and I’m another in a long line of bums writing movie reviews when they can be bothered. Once out of his bed, he took on a hell of a lot for one guy. Directing, writing, and of course, special FX.
Because of this, it seems almost rude to criticise the film too much. However, because I’m a bit of a twat, I’m going to do just that.
A photographer (Scoot McNairy) has been tasked to get his boss’s daughter, a daddy’s girl played by Whitney Able, back home. Easier said than done, because home is on the other side of the infected zone, a chunk of Mexico that’s pretty much off limits thanks to the rather massive aliens that are now living there.
Thanks to the budget constraints, the monsters are fleetingly glimpsed, or their alien howls drift through the trees, our heroes looking or listening with apprehension.
I welcome films that are willing to leave something to the viewer’s imagination, but in the case of Monsters, the sparsity of alien action left me feeling a bit disappointed. When the monsters are offscreen, there is little sense of danger, and the trip through the infected zone — save for one or two scenes — is largely uneventful.
Indeed, Able gets by just wearing a pair of shorts and a vest like she’s taking a trip to the local newsagents for a pint of milk, rather than some epic journey across a land stuffed with big scary monsters.
There’s sleeping on buses, sleeping on trains, sleeping on boats, sleeping with prostitutes, and drinking tequila in what is essentially a beautifully shot travelogue across a ‘shattered around the edges’ landscape.
When the monsters aren’t around, the focus moves to McNairy and Able. And for a couple of people who are actually married in real life, they have a surprising lack of chemistry onscreen. Their budding romance never really convinces.
And yet, despite all the niggles, the film’s hard to dislike. Edwards has achieved much with a paltry $500,000 budget, and I can’t help but admire his sheer gumption. Monsters is a brave attempt to do something different with an aliens invading Earth story. The monsters themselves are never less than beautifully realised, their movements graceful, and rather sad. Even when they’re in a rage, and on the attack.
A good, albeit flawed, debut. It’ll be interesting to see what Edwards does next.