Written by Chris Price
23 Tuesday 23rd November 2010

US imposed quarantine of other countries? Blackhawks over the US mainland? The mantraps that Monsters could so easily blunder into under the watch of a first-time director are many. It’s testament to CGI animator Gareth Edwards’ vision behind the film that steers his directorial debut from hackneyed political protestation to one of the most humble and delicate alien-invasion yarns in years.

It’s also rather shocking that an alien invasion movie made for peanuts could convey such atmosphere – and considering the director also did all the special effects on a PC with a copy of Photoshop, After Effects and 3DS Max, there’s hope for all those bedroom SFX boffins out there. 
The history goes, that in 2009, scientists discover the possibility of alien life forms existing in our solar system. Said probe returning to earth promptly crash lands in Mexico, sending US government into a hustle as they quarantine half of Mexico before some rather nasty looking aliens begin nesting on the White House lawn.
Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy – In Search of a Midnight Kiss, Art School Confidential) is hired amid the slowly escalating chaos to escort his bosses shaken daughter back to the US. McNairy is eminently watchable. His sharp backpacking student-cum-photojournalist is an instantly likable character, with an entertaining cockiness and an endearing impudence masking a far more fragile soul lurking beneath. Similarly Whitney Able (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) as Sam Wynden, reluctantly heading home to her impending marriage, displays a similar pleasant adolescence. The chemistry between the two is excellent, as they learn more about each other (and the aliens) en route. Plus, she’s as hot as a box of volcanic rocks. They are two very normal people, forced into an impossible situation through a series of very human errors.
Monsters is a story of equilibrium – in two strands, coiled throughout the film. One concentrates on living in harmony with nature, questioning its domination via technical advancement. The camera’s lingering fascination with the intermingling of buildings and nature creates an air of futility permeating every aspect of the piece. The skeletal remnants of buildings reclaimed by the jungle of Central America, under a sky of patrolling jetfighters – neatly placed against the monolithic wall North America has built to keep the alien threat away. Or at least, in Mexico.
The other is of human balance, of two individuals slowly growing to need each other. Not a unification of fear, but by time and education. Andrew and Sam become so inextricably linked through their journey that returning to their lives in America is more daunting than staying in the infected zone under constant threat from chemical bombardment. It might sound like the mother of all cheeseball war romances, but it’s handled with maturity and strength in belief from the two actors.
For the shoestring budget, the landscape is wrung dry for spooks, and at points delivers some fearsome levels of tension. A doomed Fitzcarraldo-esque riverboat journey and a spot of jungle rambling with pirates provides plenty of Jurassic Park-esque scares with the titular beasts of the film. The creatures aren’t the stars of the show by a long shot (the CGI, while effective is patchy – only effective usage of natural background brings out the best in it).
They serve to reinforce the message of harmony – portrayed as a force of nature, a physical manifestation of the elements. Drawn out by curiosity, their familiarity coupled with their size serve as more warning than threat. They are here to remind us that maybe we’re no longer the best choice of inhabitants for our planet.
The idea of returning to basics and stepping aside from the world as it is, to truly understand what’s going within it. Parallels have already been drawn between Monsters and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 – and with a fraction of the budget, Edwards has created an equally fresh and assured take on the sci-fi genre. Warm, personal and perhaps, the worlds first alien-invasion themed date movie.
Monsters is out in the UK on December 3.

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