Film Review: All About “Monsters”

I had a chance to see “Monsters” during the brief time last year when it was playing in selected indie theaters around the country. According to Box Office Mojo, it’s widest release was only 25 theaters (plus DirectTV and iTunes while it was still playing in theaters). In fact, it only grossed 237K in the United States (although it managed to rake in more than 4 million dollars world-wide). I dragged my brother to see it because I’d read about it, and we both felt privileged to have seen it at the E Street Cinema in downtown DC.

What was so exciting about it? Well, it was a great indie science fiction film written and directed by Gareth Edwards and produced on a shoestring budget. I came away extremely impressed with the film, not just as a good first film or a good low-budget indie effort, but rather, as a good film period.

Here’s the official summary of the film:

In 2009 NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, but it crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an Infected Zone. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain the extraterrestrial “creatures.” After six years, they’re no longer aliens—they’re residents. The story begins when U.S. photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy,In Search of a Midnight Kiss) agrees to escort a shaken American tourist Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) through the Infected Zone in Mexico to the safety of the U.S. border.

Monsters - Original movie poster

Original Movie Poster

Gareth Edwards, a UK visual effects expert with a background in creating special effects for documentaries, wrote the film and shot the footage on a micro-budget in real-life locations, including Mexico, Guatemala, Galveston and other places. Footage shot in Galveston after Hurricane Katrina is used to good advantage in the film and helps provide a “big-picture” feel to the scenes of devastation caused by the alien infestation.

Critical reception to the film has been somewhat lukewarm, but my impression is that most of the critics don’t actually get the film. It’s a science fiction drama that concentrates on the human story and uses the film’s basic premise to focus a light on a current political issues. It’s slow-paced, but I felt that helped ratchet up the tension, enhanced the reality of the character experiences and heightened the impact when the alien creatures finally manifest themselves in the film.

The film is essentially a road trip, and there are some relatively clumsy plot contrivances to ensure that the intrepid heroes go traipsing through the Infected Zone in order to get back to the U.S. These flaws are more than made up for by excellent performances the writer/director extracted from various locals, none of them professional actors, which adds immeasurably to the believability and atmosphere of the film.

On another level, I like the way that the film demonstrates how a committed artist with a vision, like Gareth Edwards, can use widely available tools like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and others to create a truly professional movie. I’m a science fiction fan, and Hollywood just isn’t making the kind of SF movies that I generally want to see. I’m heartened to see that indie producers can be this empowered. Let’s hope for more films like this in the future.

Bottom Line: It’s a genuinely good film, with a solid story, a well-imagined premise, some visually stunning cinematography and good overall execution. If you’re the kind of person who thinks Transformers 2 was a good movie, then this is not the film for you. Otherwise, I recommend the film to anybody who’s looking for a unique drama with a little bit of bite to it.

The movie deserves a much wider audience that it ever got at the theaters. It’s also available on DVD now, although I recommend the Blue-Ray format over the standard DVD. There’s a key scene, a very dark one, that just plays better on Blue-Ray.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2012 at 3:41 PM | Permalink

    It was filmed on a Sony EX3 camera with a Nikon 50 MM Lens. They used almost exclusively natural light, except for a couple tiny LED lights for when it was pitch black. Special effects were done in Adobe CS4, and edited in Premiere. The majority of filming was shot with just a sound guy, the director and the 2 main characters.

    This was about a $6000 camera at the time, and was known for its good coverage in low light conditions. It also has a mode where it can emulate a more traditional (and expensive) movie camera.

    I’ve been lucky enough to borrow a Sony EX1, the EX3’s little brother, from Near Infinity for videotaping events such as RubyNation, a technical conference.

  2. ubolt
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 1:01 PM | Permalink

    YOU made me see this!

    And it was actually worth it. Surprisingly good, especially considering the budget. Too subtle, maybe, for the teenage crowd, from what I gather on IMDB.com.

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