Saturday, 10 March 2012

Monsters (2010)



There are many many creature features in the world, so for today's audiences these kind of films have to be done a little different. The likes of Troll Hunter and Cloverfield have really nailed the POV found-footage genre, and if you can stand the shaky cam then they are really effective. Super 8 makes the kids the main characters, seeing the creature through the eyes of these budding film-makers making their own movie. Attack the Block makes the "heroes" real anti-heroes and puts a real modern spin on things. Monsters is something different again; the monsters are really secondary, where the focus of the film is the growing relationship between Sam and Andrew; and that's before I mention how it was made. More on that later.

Having discovered Alien life within our Solar System, NASA try to make contact by sending up a probe, which then breaks up while re-entering earth's atmosphere over Mexico. New life forms soon started appearing in Mexico, and half of the country is then quarantined as the "Infected Zone". Journalist photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is told by his boss to get his daughter, Sam (Whitely Able), out of hospital and out of Mexico. Unfortunately a nice ferry trip over the Gulf of Mexico is out of the question after Sam has her passport stolen; cue a journey through the Infected Zone.

Like I mentioned, there are far fewer monsters than I expected from a film called Monsters. It is really a case of less is more; so we see the occasional tentacle pulling a fighter jet underwater, or blurry news footage on a TV in the background. For the most part the film concentrates on the human drama as Andrew and Sam try to make their way North through Mexico and back to the US. It's quite a cool film, not edge of the seat stuff or horrific at all, but the two main actors are very good at conveying the wonder, fear and uncertainty of their journey. Just like Sam Neill, Laura Dern et al. in Jurassic Park, Scoot and Whitney are very good at reacting to the situations they encounter. This culminates in a scene near the end as they realise that the aliens are actually quite beautiful and just doing their thing; they only become aggressive as mankind tries to control and eliminate them.

While it is a good film, arguably far more interesting is how Monsters was made. With a crew of only 4 as well as the two main actors, the film was really made by winging it! A lot of filming was done in central America, and the crew would simply drive around, leap out of the car if director Gareth Edwards saw something interesting, and then they would just start filming! There would only be the vaguest idea of what would be happening in a particular scene, so the actors would just improvise most of the time. Any extras that were in the film were randoms that just happened to be there as they were filming. Real guerilla film-making. I did know beforehand that the special effects had been done by the director himself, which also makes this a fairly unique film. I believe that he only used software that you or I could buy off the shelf! So it's pretty impressive that all the CG effects look great.

Of course this remarkable seat-of-the-pants way of making the film should in no way rose-tint my view of the film itself. The movie is pretty cool but nothing amazing, though it scores well in terms of the actors giving great performances of "normal" people being thrown into dangerous situations. Unfortunately there are a couple of plot holes, I guess an inevitable result of the way the film was made: not actually having a strict plot! Overall a good film with an interesting idea, well acted, occasionally beautifully shot and actually more than a passing resemblance to a post-apocalyptic movie than a creature-feature.