Directed by Gareth Edwards
Monsters begins with a flurry of panicked hand-held night vision shots as troops battle with a looming, Lovecraft-ian creature that towers above them, tentacles rippling through the night sky. It’s an arresting first impression and one whose key tone – realism – is maintained throughout the rest of the movie.
Because Monsters‘s greatest strength isn’t its perfectly cast actors, its gorgeous and varied locations, its hauntingly beautiful score, the pitch perfect editing, or even the stupendous achievement that is the homegrown effects work. No, its greatest strength lies in its odd realism. Monsters is a love story via road movie set largely within a quarantined landmass separating Mexico from America that our two leads must traverse to get home. The area is quarantined because a shuttle probe crash landed years prior, distributing alien life into the dense jungles and rivers – a fact that is never over-emphasized as a source for drama. Director Edwards is far too sensible and savvy to make that staple mistake, one that any Hollywood director would surely fall into. His film could simply have been called Animals, as that is all that the aliens are treated as. They are realistic in their design, movements and temperament and despite the opening scene there is very little action here.
Monsters is a gentle, dreamy, but perfectly paced exploration of a world that is familiar yet strange, one packed with magical incidents and seemingly threatening creatures. Its two leads (who were already a couple prior to filming) have such wonderfully genuine chemistry and an impossible-to-fake sense of curiosity with the environments that envelop them (the film was all shot in symmetry to their narrative journey) that they are immediately likable and sympathetic. It’s the filmmaking, however, that’s the real star of this piece as Edwards almost single-handedly weaves a world of such majestic wonder and sumptuous atmosphere that it is completely captivating from the first invigorating frame to the swelling final one.
Incredibly emotive, sad, funny, thought provoking, calming and patient. It’s a film of incredible rarity and one whose techniques should be embraced as the a viable alternative to mainstream moviemaking (it was edited in Premiere and all the effects were done on his laptop using Adobe). Personally, it’s already threatening to become one of this reviewer’s favourite films of all time. Simply unmissable come the time of its official release.