There have been so many alien invasion films lately, that I wouldn’t blame you for rolling you’re eyes when I tell you that Monsters is a film about what happens to a country when aliens land and make Earth their home.
Monsters, a film directed, produced, edited -and a few other things, by Gareth Edwards is not concerned with big explosions and bloodthirsty aliens. This is a film where the aliens are only glimpsed until the final shot, where the focus of the story isn’t the battle against the aliens, but how life carries on under such extraordinary circumstances.
But above all, it’s a love story, set in some of the most beautiful South American locations. This isn’t Godzilla thankfully, but more a tense and thoughtfully paced, character driven road movie. If you want big bangs and empty thrills, then perhaps you should check out Battle: Los Angeles or Skyline. This is a film with intelligence to match the stunning locations, two hugely likeable main characters and a narrative that makes the whole scenario seem totally real.
The introduction tells us that a NASA probe went up in to space six years ago, collecting spores from an extra-terrestrial species, before crash-landing in Mexico. For the last six years, the aliens species has been living in the South American jungles, turning the whole country into a quarantine zone. A photographer is tasked by his American magazine employer to take photographs of the devastation, but is then forced by the owner of the magazine to escort his daughter back to safer shores, before she is stuck in the quarantine zone for six months. Thus begins a journey for the two characters, as they witness existence in the face of adversity, communities trying to survive against the odds, and they both come to understand the isolation that ignorance has created.
There is a real political bent to the narrative, akin to the apartheid commentary of District 9; but here it isn’t so on-the-nose. Poverty stricken Mexico has been ravaged, but it is clear that it is not the aliens who are to blame, but paranoid governments (American) intent on protecting their borders. Isolationism is the theme here and Gareth Edwards has some damning things to say about it.
Edwards has crafted a totally unique film. It references some of the classics (Close Encounters, Apocalypse Now) but stands on its own two feet as one of the best sci-fi films made in the last ten years. It’s that good. Edwards is helped immensely by his cast; Whitney Able as Samantha and Scoot McNairy as Andrew have great chemistry on screen (they are married in real life) and their developing relationship is delicately and patiently developed.
But what makes this film stand out from any other film I’ve seen in a long, long time is the locations and the visuals. I’ve never seen South America portrayed in such a vital, human way, nor with such beautiful photography. These incredible landscapes serve to highlight the destruction that men have caused in the pursuit of ‘safety’, and underlines the alienation of the two main characters as they try to travel across such unfamiliar territory.
And then we have the aliens themselves. They are totally unique but somehow, familiar. Edwards has done wonders to create these truly amazing visuals with such a limited budget. ($500,000 apparently). When you compare this to the bloated Godzilla Emmerich produced, you wonder what the hell they were doing with their $100 million.
By the end, you’ll be wondering who the real ‘Monsters’ are in this story. It gives you issues to really think about after the credits roll – and it’s not very often a film about aliens can do that.
This is not a Monster Movie. It’s a road movie. It’s a love story. It’s a love letter to South America. It’s bloody brilliant.
Have a look at Gareth Edward’s first short film, Factory Farmed. It’s amazing.Follow @bennybentham