What can I say about Monsters which hasn’t already been said? Well, I could say that it is this year’s District 9, but, on closer inspection, that seems to be an unfair comparison. District 9 had a $30 million budget and the visual effects supervision of Peter Jackson and Weta. Monsters had a, rumoured, total budget of $500,000 and the visual effects were created entirely by the project’s wunderkind writer/director Gareth Edwards. The resulting film is a different (and probably not quite as good) beast to Blomkamp’s mockumentary, but it has its own identity and will probably be seen as the defining film of a new genre: Hollywood visuals on a micro-budget, aka Budget Bay.
The title has raised a lot of debate, especially from people who went in expecting to see a monster flick. Yes, there are visible monsters, but they only appear on about three occasions in the film. The crux of the story focuses on the two travellers through the fabled infected zone; a rich media mogul’s level headed daughter and the slightly caustic but ultimately good hearted photographer, to whom she is trusted. Is it a love story? Yes and no. Don’t expect sparks to fly, but at the heart of this piece there is a relationship that is believable, even when surrounded by the unbelievable. My main objection to low budget films (see Katie in Paranormal Activity) has been that the actors are either not good enough or not attractive enough to be screen presences- Edwards’ cast manage to overcome both these problems, giving the impression that this film has a lot more pre-production polish than it did.
But perhaps the most important talking point is the effects. The monsters are gorgeous, an unusual word to use for aliens but, in this case, an apt one. They look like a combination of squids and fireflies and it’s a very visually unique effect. Everything that is created in the film from the crashed planes and the helicopters patrolling the border to the caution signs and Mexican slums were created in post by the film’s director. It’s an astonishing feat and a truly inspirational one for any aspiring filmmakers. The last scene in particular is so exquisitely achieved, and confident, that you will struggle to believe this is Edwards’ first feature film. It goes down, along with No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man, as one of my favourite endings of the last few years.
A wonderful achievement and one that should make it possible for filmmakers, young and old, not only to dream of creating these movies, but to go out there and make ‘em.