05 December 2010
BBC special effects wiz Gareth Edwards’ shoestring debut is as accomplished as any science fiction with a bazillion-dollar budget. Comparisons with previous smash hits Cloverfield and District 9 are apt and justified, but contrary to those well-received films, Monsters has a much more interesting story and on-screen chemistry that is unseen in today’s star-laden films.
Categorising Monsters as an out-and-out sci-fi monster flick is misleading, as the titular monsters only account for a tiny percentage of screen time. And with the exception of the Spielbergian last scene, they are either hidden behind a thick layer of night fog, or glimpsed through fuzzy news reports. However, and apparently inadvertantly, the monsters the film refers to aren’t the extra-terrestrial squids that torment Mexico, but a more visible and local Monster - Fox News should have a field day with this film, because I can’t think of a more damning film about the American foreign policy than Monsters. Wiki Leaks got the coverage the past few days, but Edwards’ script nails home the politics in one succinct line that his lead utters before the plot winds down.
NASA discovers extra-terrestrial life in the Solar System and retrieves the life forms to bring to Earth for examination. Upon entry, the shuttle explodes in mid air and crashes into Mexico - was that a deliberate attempt to protect the US soil? Soon after, Central America is terrorised by giant squids. Mexican and American military create an Infected Zone to contain and ultimately annihilate these ‘monsters’.
Six years later, Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photographer working for a newspaper owned by a wealthy media mogul (News Corp, anyone?). While in San Jose on the trail of one of these creatures to get a photo for his newspaper, he is given the task of babysitting the owner’s beautiful daughter, Sam (Whitney Able). Kaulder will escort her to the ferry to the US. Ofcourse, things do not go as planned and both end up making the journey on foot across the Infected Zone.
Even without knowing that this was shot with a crew of two, plus the actors, on a budget of £500,000 is in itself a miracle. This is as anti-Avatar as it gets - and it is just marvelous. The seamless CGI’d decrepit cities, downed fighter jets floating in rivers, a boat stranded on a a hilltop (Fitzcarraldo, anyone?) all look polished and big-budget enough to forget the circumstances that it was filmed in.
Edwards pay homage to a lot of past and current masters of film. The aforementioned Spielbergian finale gave me goosebumps all over - definitely one of my favourite scenes of the year. There are further nods to Herzog and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The fact that even after paying so much attention to how the film looks and feels, Edwards’ script (mostly ad-libbed by the actors) manages to tell a coherent and interesting story - and it even adds a little twist at the end.
Monsters is one of the best films of the year and quite possibly the best science fiction film of the year. Sorry Inception.