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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
Click poster to enlarge
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Scoot McNairy
Whitney Able.
Directors
Gareth Edwards.
Screenwriters
Gareth Edwards.
Running Time
93 minutes

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Monsters
Exemplary sci-fi road movie-come-love story


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Plot
Kaulder (McNairy) is an American photojournalist working in Central America. After a phone call, he’s compelled to pick up his boss’ daughter, Sam (Able), from hospital and see that she gets back home to America safely. Thus begins a fraught journey — and a tentative romance — as a series of mishaps force the pair to trek through ‘The Infected Zone’, a strip of land along the US border inhabited by gigantic extra-terrestrial creatures.


Review
Monsters
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Shoestring films live or die by the strength of their ideas. Often those ideas are all they have, the means by which they transcend their pecuniary limitations. And the best ideas achieve such transcendence by using those limitations. Found-footage movies seem ten-a-penny these days, but who can forget the primally terrifying impact The Blair Witch Project achieved with but three cast members, one camera and one patch of dank woodland? Open Water didn’t need more than two actors treading brine to achieve its desolate discomfort; in fact, it required it. And to put himself on the surprisingly short road to The Dark Knight and Inception, Christopher Nolan constructed for himself a noir narrative that required only a few real-location interiors, his debut Following entwined around the theme of mere petty burglary.

You wonder if Monsters — shot using one camera on location with a professional cast of two — will yet prove to be Gareth Edwards’ own Following. Indeed, comparing him with the Nolan of 1998, who then had only a few shorts to his CV, Edwards immediately appears more likely to be one day commanding vast budgets and crafting towering visual-effects spectacles. As well as having some TV directing experience (including a BBC programme on Attila The Hun and two episodes of Perfect Disasters), he’s also an established digital effects artist, and it’s this skill in particular that in Monsters serves him so well — and so well services his idea: that, quite simply, of a character-based road movie which takes place just after, or just beside, an alien invasion.

Not only does Edwards carry the credits of writer and director, he’s also Monsters’ director of photography, production designer and, crucially, visual-effects supervisor. So rather than the film’s VFX considerations being couched as the usual “Can we?” dialogues (e. g. “Can we fix that in post?”), they were more a case of “I can” — and at that with just a fraction of the processing power afforded even the sloppiest summer blockbuster. So, for example, Edwards knew that, while he couldn’t exactly have his creatures swarming around the frame like Spielberg-summoned tripods or Cameron-conjured Na’vi, he could still afford at least one full-reveal shot (and achieve this avoiding even Cloverfield’s home-movie-Godzilla aesthetic).

Frankly, anyone can shoot an on-the-hoof road-movie romance. But Edwards has gone one step beyond, shooting an on-the-hoof road-movie romance set against an epic backdrop of devastation, a ruined landscape littered with rusting hulks of military hardware and featuring giant aliens (both living and slaughtered) that are as realistic and compelling as the central human relationship.

Edwards’ creatures are astonishingly rendered: pylon-sized hybrids of octopus, giraffe and jellyfish, balletically stalking through the night, their bioluminescent tentacles seemingly as capable of tenderness as they are devastation. They are perfectly alien, existing on an entirely different scale and on an entirely different level of sentience — one which you surmise humanity couldn’t ever hope to understand. We might as well try and ask a fireworks display to take us to its leader.

Admirably, Edwards doesn’t spell any of this out — in fact, aside from one scene involving alien eggs and an explanation as to why the Zone is considered ‘Infected’, his script (or semi-script, to be more accurate) is all about suggestion rather than dictation. Comparisons with Cloverfield have been rife, as they have with Neill Blomkamp’s excellent District 9, but Monsters is far subtler, more sensitive and humane than either — which does sound strange for a movie in which an outsize extra-terrestrial hurls a car through the air.

It’s not just the blockbuster-level VFX which belie the film’s teensie budget. Edwards’ photography is rich, crisp and lush, suffering neither the muddiness of cheap film nor the coldness of digital. And despite the single-camera set-ups, non-professional supporting cast and (albeit CG-garnished) found locations, it doesn’t feel like a faux documentary, either. At times, no doubt inspired by its largely rainforest setting, Monsters even exhibits the lyrical surrealism of Werner Herzog’s jungle excursions, with vehicles stranded in canopies and one astonishing moment when a previously submerged fighter jet breaks the surface of a river, tail-fin first, like a tarnished metal shark.

The talent’s not just behind the camera. While Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Sam’s (Whitney Able) double-helixed character arc is familiar — how could a man and woman go on a life-changing journey and not fall in love with each other, unless it’s not happening in a movie? — the relationship beats for the most part feel natural, unforced, with the principals achieving an on-screen syncopy largely through an improvisation that’s fuelled by the fact they’re a real-life couple. Both do start as recognisable ‘types’: he the cynical professional with a well-buried heart, she the damaged little rich girl with a fat diamond on her ringfinger. And along the way, we do spot a few obvious emotional signposts. (At one point, Sam chides Kaulder for choosing a profession which depends on the suffering of others, and he points out how much more money he’ll earn for a photo of a dead infant than a happy one. No prizes for guessing what happens later when Kaulder and Sam do find a creature-slain child…) Even so, by the film’s eerily beautiful climax you’ll be praying that everything works out for them, that the couple get to spend the rest of their lives together. Able and McNairy’s simmering chemistry is undeniable, at its strongest during a playful scene in which a sozzled Kaulder clumsily attempts to seduce Sam at her hotel-room doorway.

Monsters’ relation to the mumblecore scene, that bedheaded clutch of semi-improv’d American-indie character studies, has already been noted. But it’s less a mumblecore movie with monsters than it is a sci-fi picture which never loses sight of the human factor. Like all good sci-fi — arguably all sci-fi — it’s a movie which works as allegory as well as entertainment.

It’s telling that the aliens in Edwards’ story are never referred to as ‘monsters’. The prevalent word is “creatures”. Which begs the question: to what does the film’s title, so unashamedly B movie (all it needs is a dripping font and an exclamation mark on the end), refer? One scene suggests the most obvious answer. Before entering The Infected Zone, Kaulder and Sam have a night out, their boozy revelry interrupted by the sobering sight of hundreds of candle-lit photos of casualties. But, it’s claimed, the creatures aren’t responsible for most of these deaths; it’s the imprecise and disproportionate American bombing raids on the creatures. Then there’s the sound of helicopters overhead, and the candles snuff out. Later we’re informed that the creatures never really bother anyone unless they’re bothered first. So it proves: throughout the film, there’s no creature attack that isn’t presaged by US military presence or the sound of jet turbines and gunfire, while the preponderance of wrecked-vehicle-decorated foliage suggests that such destructive hardware itself represents a monstrosity to these (most likely) unwilling immigrants.

Perhaps that’s overthinking it, but therein lies the beauty of Monsters: out of its one, strong, central idea bloom several others, ripe for the audience to pick. And that’s evidence of both shoestring and sci-fi filmmaking at its best.


Verdict
An amazing achievement for a ‘first-time’ filmmaker, which measures up to the finest indies for performance and character-work, and the biggest blockbusters for jaw-dropping effects. And it has the year’s best sex scene, too.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Monsters
Empire Star Rating

RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Deviation t really see that though,we see this from the persective of two people who represent humanity.And on that note,there's no connection. e see that throughout the entire first act before they get into the forest. It's left right and center throughout, the giant walls, the photojournalist asking people, the wall graffiti, people living in constant fear of an octupi going berserk in a inhabited area...Also, there were big connections in The Mist, connections that led to religio... More

Posted by thetruth at 13:40, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: superdan L: Deviation The argument about the title is odd. Like where were the reservoirs in Reservoir Dogs? Why isn't Rebecca ever seen alive in Rebecca? Why isn't Shaun dead in Shaun of the Dead? f it's an argument about whether the film was mis-marketed, and the title being a symptom of that, then I would be inclined to agree that it was perhaps a poor choice. If you're watching a film about an alien 'invasion' called Monsters, then you might be given the wrong imp... More

Posted by Deviation at 12:47, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: superdan L: Deviation The argument about the title is odd. Like where were the reservoirs in Reservoir Dogs? Why isn't Rebecca ever seen alive in Rebecca? Why isn't Shaun dead in Shaun of the Dead? f it's ment about whether the film was mis-marketed, and the title being a symptom of thatI would be inclined to agree that it was perhaps a poor choice. If you're watching a film about an alien 'invasion' called Monsters, then you might be given the wrong impression about wh... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 12:42, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Deviation The argument about the title is odd. Like where were the reservoirs in Reservoir Dogs? Why isn't Rebecca ever seen alive in Rebecca? Why isn't Shaun dead in Shaun of the Dead? f it's an argument about whether the film was mis-marketed, and the title being a symptom of that, then I would be inclined to agree that it was perhaps a poor choice. If you're watching a film about an alien 'invasion' called Monsters, then you might be given the wrong impression about what... More

Posted by superdan at 12:29, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

The argument about the title is odd. Like where were the reservoirs in Reservoir Dogs? Why isn't Rebecca ever seen alive in Rebecca? Why isn't Shaun dead in Shaun of the Dead? ... More

Posted by Deviation at 12:18, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Deviation there are very few monsters in Monsters-there are more people!e] Yeah, so what? Come on, this thing about the title is not an argument. There are more than one big beasties in it, the Trade's Description case would crumble before it got to court. It's a film title - artistic licence and the privilege that allows still applies. ... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 12:13, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

t really see that though,we see this from the persective of two people who represent humanity.And on that note,there's no connection. e see that throughout the entire first act before they get into the forest. It's left right and center throughout, the giant walls, the photojournalist asking people, the wall graffiti, people living in constant fear of an octupi going berserk in a inhabited area...Also, there were big connections in The Mist, connections that led to religious lunacy, survival an... More

Posted by Deviation at 12:01, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Hillsman L: Vitamin F When an alien invasion actually happens (stick with me here not going to be all flashy and cool like Independence Day or Battle LA for you and me and every other 'nobody', it's going to be more of a peripheral experience like this film illustrates. That was the appeal of Monsters for me, it actually feels more plausible and easier to relate to than the usual invasion film style. Because it's a human story, set to a backdrop/aftermath. Like I believe I said i... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 11:50, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Deviation I loved The Road. I thought The Book of Eli was one of the dullest films I've yet to see with a message on faith and religion so poorly constructed that it makes Dogma look like Tarkovsky or Bergman. the world science fiction dramas with monsters in them and not comparable??? ut the world in Monsters wasn't ending, it wasn't close to ending, nothing in it showed that the world is ending and everything in it happened after the invasion. And The Mist was a very straight... More

Posted by thetruth at 10:30, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Rgirvan44 One of the big points about Monsters is that it isn't an end of the world movie. That is the point. Mankind, as usual, adapts to severe change and goes on regardless.  ont really see that though,we see this from the persective of two people who represent humanity.And on that note,there's no connection. As for the term,"end of the world",it's just a general term-how many films,be they involving natural disasters/aliens/monsters actually see the end of the world? There... More

Posted by thetruth at 10:23, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

I loved The Road. I thought The Book of Eli was one of the dullest films I've yet to see with a message on faith and religion so poorly constructed that it makes Dogma look like Tarkovsky or Bergman. the world science fiction dramas with monsters in them and not comparable??? ut the world in Monsters wasn't ending, it wasn't close to ending, nothing in it showed that the world is ending and everything in it happened after the invasion. And The Mist was a very straightforward 70-80s horror ... More

Posted by Deviation at 02:39, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

One of the big points about Monsters is that it isn't an end of the world movie. That is the point. Mankind, as usual, adapts to severe change and goes on regardless.  ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 01:42, 04 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: superdan L: thetruth The Road is an end of the world film that doesnt have big battle scenes or flashy effects,but it is gripping from start to end.That beyond the effects quality is missing here. found Book Of Eli more gripping than the disappointment that was The Road. ly???l And the Road a disappointment?? ... More

Posted by thetruth at 22:57, 03 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: thetruth The Road is an end of the world film that doesnt have big battle scenes or flashy effects,but it is gripping from start to end.That beyond the effects quality is missing here. found Book Of Eli more gripping than the disappointment that was The Road. ... More

Posted by superdan at 21:24, 03 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Hillsman L: Vitamin F When an alien invasion actually happens (stick with me here not going to be all flashy and cool like Independence Day or Battle LA for you and me and every other 'nobody', it's going to be more of a peripheral experience like this film illustrates. That was the appeal of Monsters for me, it actually feels more plausible and easier to relate to than the usual invasion film style. Because it's a human story, set to a backdrop/aftermath. Like I believe I s... More

Posted by thetruth at 20:56, 03 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Vitamin F When an alien invasion actually happens (stick with me here not going to be all flashy and cool like Independence Day or Battle LA for you and me and every other 'nobody', it's going to be more of a peripheral experience like this film illustrates. That was the appeal of Monsters for me, it actually feels more plausible and easier to relate to than the usual invasion film style. Because it's a human story, set to a backdrop/aftermath. Like I believe I said in a previous glo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hillsman at 15:48, 03 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Deviation L: thetruth L: Deviation Why the hell are people comparing Monsters to The Mist?  aims tobe about them,but has none-the other has loads.ously,are you fixated with comparison issues?It´s very applicable here. he only thing similar is that they both have people in it. the world science fiction dramas with monsters in them and not comparable??? Although there are more people in Monsters than monsters. It´s a valid comparison. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 21:43, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Monsters

L: Tech_Noir Anything is possible if people are skilled and dedicated. In the case of Monsters, from a production point of view yes I'm thoroughly impressed, 10 out of 10. From a viewer's point of view I wasn't. I wasn't swept away by the story and didn't come away thinking I'd experienced something original...With Monsters all that comes to mind is the budget and production values. sp; This.   stretched and empty. It would have made an amazing short. There really wasn'... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Macavity at 08:59, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: thetruth L: Deviation Why the hell are people comparing Monsters to The Mist?  aims tobe about them,but has none-the other has loads.ously,are you fixated with comparison issues?It´s very applicable here. he only thing similar is that they both have people in it. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 03:42, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Monsters

L: Rgirvan44 I like both! And Tech - while you may not like Monsters, surely its success shows that low budget sci-fi is possible from the UK? That must be an encouraging thought? t point,i´d give it credit too. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 18:43, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Deviation Why the hell are people comparing Monsters to The Mist?  aims tobe about them,but has none-the other has loads.ously,are you fixated with comparison issues?It´s very applicable here. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 18:43, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

Why the hell are people comparing Monsters to The Mist?  ... More

Posted by Deviation at 14:22, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Vitamin F Like I believe I said in a previous glowing appraisal (that has somehow gone missing from this thread, mods!), gest flaw with Monsters was the fucking ridiculous marketing.ote] I'd agree. They should have a different title too. ... More

Posted by Tech_Noir at 13:04, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Monsters

L: Rgirvan44 I like both! And Tech - while you may not like Monsters, surely its success shows that low budget sci-fi is possible from the UK? That must be an encouraging thought? nything is possible if people are skilled and dedicated. In the case of Monsters, from a production point of view yes I'm thoroughly impressed, 10 out of 10. From a viewer's point of view I wasn't. I wasn't swept away by the story and didn't come away thinking I'd experienced something origina... More

Posted by Tech_Noir at 13:01, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Action Packed? Please.

L: Hillsman I really should know better. In recent times, I have been weighing up films based on User Reviews rather than Press Reviews, with successful results. In this ONE case, I decided to believe the hype. Don't. This is basically an Indie road-trip movie inst the back-drop of an infected chunk of South America that a couple of uninteresting nobodies need to pass through to get home. The story is boring, the script uninspiring and the journey relatively uneventful. The monsters of... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 13:00, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


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