I caught a blog on Jeff Somers’ site a while back, extolling the marvellousness of a micro-budget SF movie called MONSTERS. And I finally managed to catch up with it this week. It’s a tremendous, playful, imaginative, and very beautiful fillm. A lot of micro-budget movies – like OPEN WATER, the one where the characters are trapped in shark-infested waters, or even THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT – have a deliberately grungey and verite look to them, making a virtue of the lack of finance. MONSTERS interestingly plays a different game. It is beautifully shot, richly coloured, splendidly art designed, and entirely cinematic. The special effects are great, the monsters are superbly rendered. It’s a shock really to see such utterly classy cinema entertainment made for less than half a million dollars.
The story is simple: aliens have invaded the bit between Mexico and the United States, which is now called the Infected Zone. And our photographer hero (played by Scoot McNairy) has to take his boss’s daughter (played by Whitney Able) to safety. It’s that simple; but the joy of the premise is that you get time to enjoy the chemistry between these two delightful and unaffacted actors. The film for much of the time is like a deranged travelogue, ‘My Holiday in Mexico Where, Oops, there are Aliens.’ These two are the only named characters; and the camera loves them, and I love them too.
Film-maker Gareth Edwards (who wrote, directed, lit, and art designed the whole shebang) avoids the familiar cliche of ‘not showing the aliens’ (which got so tedious in CLOVERFIELD.) So we do see the aliens, early on; but not often. And most of the time the alien presence is evoked by oblique means. A jeep stuck up a tree. A US fighter plane sunk in the lake. (Remember how Spielberg played it in WAR OF THE WORLDS, where Tom Cruise sees bodies floating down the river – we don’t see them die, but it’s a hundred times scarier than watching action stuff.)
And signs – this is a film that’s all about sign. ’15KM to the Infected Zone’, a sign will tell us. The UK poster (above) plays on that, with its casual warning about the ‘Extra-Terrestrial Infected Zone.’ And these techniques make the horror of it feel so real; in the mundanest and most chilling of ways.
Edwards is now making a remake to GODZILLA. Some call this a sell-out. I say – hurrah! Bring it on!
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