The most important thing to note about Monsters is that, although their presence is made immediately clear by the destruction left in their wake, the monsters are rarely physically seen. For the first hour the creatures remain hidden to us; a folklore where any understanding we have is attained through the media or stories from locals. The film preys on our fear of the unknown.
Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life form began to appear and half of Mexico was quarantined as an infected zone. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain “the creatures”. Monsters follows a cynical US journalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) who agrees to escort a shaken tourist Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
Shown through soft gestures and suggesting looks the chemistry between the two is instantly noticeable. While it may seem obvious where this relationship is headed, the extraordinary circumstances the two find themselves in overshadow a predictable narrative. Although they have been living under these conditions for six years and become accustom to the death and devastation that surrounds them, neither has seen a living creature.
The directors of films such as Monsters and Cloverfield show a brilliant use of subjectivity paired with a firm understanding that the longer the creatures are kept hidden the more frightening they are. Much like the characters the audience can only watch as the monsters effortlessly wreak havoc around them. However unlike Cloverfield, that revealed its Godzilla-esque creature all too soon, Monsters prolongs the big reveal. When it finally arrives, instead of a computer generated explosion fest straight out of Michael Bay’s effects cupboard, director Gareth Edwards provides a subtle touch.
Little known British filmmaker Gareth Edwards writes and directs his debut feature and it is immediately clear that he is heavily experienced in visual effects. His directorial style, heavily influenced by his work in documentary provides a subtlety that the film industry has been lacking. Even though he is dealing with the science fiction genre the visual effects remain simplistic, natural and realistic. In terms of the cinematography, also undertaken by Edwards, each shot is crafted with a painterly aesthetic where each one is more beautiful than the last. One of the problems encountered in this film is that a lot of time is spent watching characters walking, but through use of ellipsis and fast cutting the film remains a perfectly paced.
From Duncan Jones’ Moon to Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 the past two years has seen an influx in independent British sci-fi films. Edwards provides more proof that a film does not solely rely on a ridiculous budget in order to be successful, but due to his exceptional writing and directing style Monsters ranks highly among a sub-genre of films that have proved very fruitful.