Re:View – ‘Monsters’
The only bad thing about ‘Monsters’ is the bland title, which might keep audiences away, and that would be a shame because the film is a genuine game-changer, as radical to the new SF as ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ was to horror. There’s not much here for gorehounds and SF action geeks, but you can now consider this genre freshly reinvented.
Shot on a budget of £500,000 by Gareth Edwards, a young British filmmaker of startling talent who also created the effects, it’s tense, dramatic and finally moving. You watch and wonder ‘How the hell did he do it?’ Because this isn’t just SF, it’s a very believable cliche-free drama, an epic, a road trip and a romance.
A news photographer has to accompany his boss’s daughter out of Central America, and from the start they distrust one another. The trip should be straightforward but there’s a problem. Six years earlier a space probe broke up over the area, infecting a swathe of Mexico below America, who promptly whacked up a massive wall to keep out whatever was marauding inside. And our heroes have to cross it.
This would normally be a cue for a beat-’em-up that involves Ving Rhames and Jason Statham. Instead, the jittery events unfold like a verite remake of ‘Salvador’. Getting out is just the start of the couple’s troubles. Accompanied by moody trance music, the pair watch in horror as the immense creatures that have evolved in the zone start their migrating season in their direction. As in ‘District 9’ there’s a powerful political shadow cast over events, and a sense that the US authorities may not prove welcoming upon the couple’s arrival.
But it’s the sheer believability of a film involving giant squids that amazes, because we stay with the kindly and permanently put-upon locals (much of the dialogue was improvised) who have to deal with the painful fallout of someone else’s problem. We could be watching a film about the aftermath of Katrina, Afghanistan or a Washington-engineered military coup. Prioritising human reaction over spectacle keeps the story in perfect balance. Terrible events are glimpsed from afar, as you or I would really see them.
Every reaction here feels true, from the mundanity of coping with the creatures to their integration into popular culture after being around for six years. They aren’t the First World’s problem, so it’s the poor and dispossessed who bear the pain of the air force bombing raids.
I hope there’s a sequel because it’s a rich and serious subject, but only if created by Edwards. I pray he doesn’t go to Hollywood and end up making Transformers movies. But presumably anyone with this breadth of vision will know his own mind – what a debut.