If you missed Monsters because it never came to your local art theater or cineplex, it was recently released on DVD and you should check it out. Others have said this, but it’s the best giant monster movie since Cloverfield, although it is entirely different from that film in tone. Monsters is similar to Cloverfield in that we are following fairly normal characters in their quest to get out of an area where giant monsters roam. The differences include the chronology of the “invasion,” the amount of action, and the alien screen time (not to mention that it doesn’t have the told-through-a-video-camera documentary pretense and it’s set in the jungle rather than the city). In Monsters, the aliens appeared on Earth some time in the past (returning on one of our own space probes) and the humans have been living with them for years.
Aliens are present on screen, but they are mostly relegated to the background, acting as the reason the characters are in the situation they are in, but not the primary reason to watch. The military is there, too, but not followed closely, and there are few gun battles. This movie is more of a character study about people in a difficult situation than a typical Hollywood sci-fi monster flick. Rather than epic battles, we have two people traveling cross-country to get out of the infected zone, interacting believably with the locals and sometimes with the new-found fauna. It is a sort of cinéma vérité, with natural sounding dialogue and documentary style visuals, even though it’s about something that doesn’t exist.
The male protagonist, Andrew (Scoot McNairy), is a photojournalist, in the area to get shots of live aliens, which he hopes will get his work onto the front page. He’s sent to check on and then retrieve the daughter of the owner of his paper, Sam (Whitney Able), a job with which he is less than thrilled. The performances are understated. It took me a short while to warm to the main characters (perhaps the same amount of time it took them to warm to each other), but by the time I had, I didn’t want to leave them. I was also mesmerized by the landscape, the nature shots, the aliens. Although the special effects are not entirely up to the standards of most big budget films, they are still very impressive and believable. And there is a bit of allegory about Americans and how we view the rest of the world, trying to control it and isolating ourselves from it at the same time, which is delivered as the subtle subtext of the film through just a few well chosen shots and lines.
Before viewing it, I had heard really good things about the movie, but had also read a little regarding the controversy over how low/high the budget really was given that it would have cost more had many people not contributed for free. I have to say that whether it was a $15K film or a $150K film, the director (Gareth Edwards), cast and crew did an amazing job. Monsters is an incredibly well done indie film that I highly recommend.