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Simon Read [Film Festival 06.17.10] movie review scifi thriller drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Gareth Edwards
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

The first film in our coverage of this years EIFF is Gareth Edward's 'Monsters', a film that looks from the outside like an effects laden alien, action sci-fi movie a la Cloverfield or District 9, but is more than just that, it's also a love story, a road trip and a political satire. It's also brilliant.

6 years ago scientists on Earth discovered proof that there is alien life within our solar system. A space probe is sent to collect samples (from where? who knows, this movie isn't telling!) but on arrival back home it crashes over central America. The probe releases the samples which spawn... let me see if I can properly describe them: Absolutely enormous, skyscraper sized land-walking squids which wander around Mexico absent mindedly hurling cars around and smashing into buildings. Needless to say, this won't do, and the American army starts an aerial bombing campaign in an attempt to kill off this weird new race, which are already in their hundreds.

We invited them, they're huge, and they're... winning? It seems the bombing campaign has had as detrimental effect to the life the average Mexican as the Creatures have, and it also doesn't seem to be as effective at killing the beasts as they'd hoped either. But life goes on and as one character says, "Where would we go if we left anyway? This happens all the time, we just take our chances."

The film opens with photo journalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) being given an unusual assignment. He's South of the border to try and snap a picture of one of the Creatures in action - he's heard a good quality photo fetches up to $50,000 - but it seems his boss's rebellious daughter has crossed over the American border too, and is staying in a hotel in the city. The assignment: bring her back at any cost or you're fired. Andrew reluctantly tracks her down, although his feelings about the whole gig change once he meets the attractive and intelligent Sam (Whitney Able) and they begin their schlep to the only operating civilian ferry port, where a ticket can be purchased with the right kind of cash.

Needless to say things don't go according to plan and the pair eventually realise that their only choice is to travel by land through the dangerous 'Infected Zone' where the creatures gather every year due to seasonal habits (!). They hire a guide, some soldiers, and are off on one hell of a road trip. Plot description ends here as I don't want to spoil the story, so let's concentrate on why this film works so well.

Edwards' direction is absolutely first rate and the seamless blending of special effects with pre-existing dilapidated buildings is inspired, as he creates this world in which fear, destruction and a heavy military presence are part in parcel of everyday life. The Creatures have found their way into popular culture and we see cartoons on TV of kids wearing gas masks and pointing at giant squids walking around the mountains. Street graffiti depicts American helicopters firing on them, and advertising campaigns include tempting offers such as "Buy one of these, get a free gas mask!" The acting by leads McNairy and Able is terrific and I was rooting for them all the way. Although at first they appear wary of each other, their relationship becomes stronger with each bizarre encounter and episode they share over the course of the film, and their chemistry is very strong (Able and McNairy are in fact engaged to married, congrats guys). The script and storyline, which could have so easily meandered or become camp or unbelievable, manages to walk that fine line between serious and absurd, and by the time they reach the border and I realised that the film was entering it's third act I wished it could just keep on going so we would be able to follow them around some more. For anyone who would have happily watched the yuppie brats from Cloverfield get stepped on by that movie monster, you won't have the same feelings here; I actually liked the characters and could imagine having a beer with them.

There is satire within the film, which works well but isn't as pointed at that of the aforementioned 'District 9' - While sitting around a campfire one of the Mexican soldiers basically surmises that the whole thing is pretty much the American Air Force's fault, that the creatures are more like giant drunk toddlers than evil Godzillas. "You don't bother them, they don't bother you", he says. It's a very clever idea to have the creatures as essentially benign but simply not meant for our world, which I imagine is probably true of real aliens.

If I had to point out niggles it would be that the Creatures have no name, nor any explanation. I know that's the point, but it's at least part of human nature to anthropomorphize things. Think of Romero's 'Stenches' in Land of the Dead, or the 'Prawns' from District 9, it just doesn't ring true that before referring to the giant octopus striding around the city characters will pause, think a bit and say, "You know, 'them'", or "One of those... 'Things'" I mean if aliens landed today the newspapers would have funny nicknames for them by tomorrow, and it has been 6 years since they arrived. Some the political commentary is less than subtle too, as one of the first things they see on approaching the American border is essentially a mock-up of a post Katrina Orleans, as a homeless man draped in the stars and stripes and pushing a shopping cart starts hysterical bellowing and screaming. We get it.

I still dug this film like crazy. Even although I keep mentioning other films in this review, Monsters is a very original take on a sci-fi idea that might be older than you think (I find myself staring at my copy of the original 'V' miniseries). In writing this I set out specifically NOT to mention 'District 9', which I have now mentioned for the fourth time. Monsters may sound similar but they are altogether very different films. I like this one better.

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kypdurron (12 years ago) Reply

give us a trailer,looks cool


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

I'm starting to think this film doesn't exist. All we hear is talk talk talk about how great it is yet no trailer. Waaaaaay too much talk and not enough action. If it's so good why haven't we seen anything yet? When will it be released? I hope I'm wrong but I'm getting that SPLICE vibe - over hyped fanboy wankdom.

Video or it didn't happen


Alessandro Schiassi (12 years ago) Reply

The movie would be screened in LA at Los Angeles Film Festival, , be there to believe it! ;)


P (12 years ago) Reply

I am going to see it tonight at the EIFF after the World Premier of Huge - can't wait for both


Jandy (12 years ago) Reply

I'm catching this at the LA Film Fest next week - I didn't read the whole review because I want to go in without knowing anything much, but I'm glad to see your positive rating! Even more excited about it now.


Jen Rowe (12 years ago) Reply

Just saw this at Taormina Film Fest - beautiful , witty, intelligent cinema. Can't wait to introduce friends to it.


Michael Allen (12 years ago) Reply

This is one film that is on my top 5 for reviewing. I cannot wait to see this one, as apparently the film is not all hype:)


andrew (12 years ago) Reply

Saw movie decent film, teased you with sightings
of monsters, worth seeing, but definitely not award

Andrews critics

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