Nick Nunziata: Monsters is an intriguing cocktail of a movie. Superficially billed as ‘Cloverfield meets District 9‘, I get the comparison but it’s most definitely its own animal. It’s smaller and more personal, and at times surprisingly beautiful. This isn’t a documentary style film nor is it a handheld movie. It’s the monster movie as an art film and writer/director/cinematographer/special effects artist Gareth Edwards makes a huge impression here as a new kind of auteur with a movie that isn’t perfect but serves as a nice piece of the new wave of monster movies we’re in the midst of right now.
Renn Brown: It’s sort of a back-handed compliment to say Monsters is impressive due largely to the limited resources with which it was made, but the fact remains that the film manages a lot with a little. The greatest achievement of the film is establishing a convincing alternate world, with an effective approximation of how things might actually shake out in the event that Lovecraftian beasties were to set-up shop in the arid deserts of Mexico and Texas. The effects are admirable, but this is not a great spectacle monster movie- it’s emotional storytelling set against the backdrop of an especially-tentacled world’s end scenario. The ambitions of the film are ultimately to create a love-story, and it does this fairly well. Don’t expect a new micro-budget, thought-provoking genre masterpiece (a Primer for monster flicks), instead expect a solid film shot beautifully that showcases an exceedingly talented new filmmaker.
Steve Murphy: For me I really appreciate how long it takes with the characters, especially in the beginning. For the longest time I was waiting for something to happen, but the filmmakers wisely held back in places other may not have. By doing this it makes the ‘big reveal’ all the more astonishing, because to a degree I had stopped thinking of it as a monster movie and was more focused on the relationship between the two stars. A true testament to the storytelling. By dropping the characters in a locale where they didn’t fully understand the language also helped establish the sense of loneliness, thereby drawing them closer together. Also a huge factor is the music by Jon Hopkins, which is really something special. It never gets in the way and manages to act as a cohesive element. I loved it.
Hopkins’ ambient music does wonders here because in a film like this with as few monetary resources as it has, mood is key. Coupled with the really good stylistic decisions Edwards makes throughout this film (this is the work of an accomplished filmmaker), the usage of sound and music does wonders for implying scope and in making the smaller moments really sing. It also helps that the two leads are a very distinct and unique pair. They’re far from stereotypes and they feel like real people in a way that’s fresh, and it all reinforces why this movie is unique.
Renn Brown: This film certainly wouldn’t function without a strong pair of actors to center it, and Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy do a fantastic job. They gracefully perform as a pair who grow together and survive harrowing moments, each one leaving them more connected to one another. They’re the complete focus of the movie, so they have a long stretch of time to slowly learn about each other (and therefore let us learn about them). It doesn’t hurt that they are shot magnificently. Garreth is extremely skilled at treating a moment delicately while organically interweaving human drama with the beauty of the surroundings. His camera focuses on the little details and the bigger picture with equal deftness. You can’t get this kind of coverage on such a small budget without true talent and an a precise, skillful eye.
Steve Murphy: Good point on treating the delicate moments well. There were a few times when a scene could have very easily been clogged up with tons of dialogue, but the script/director/editor/caterer carefully made certain to let the scenes breathe naturally. Here, there was no need to force exposition with mundane drivel, scenes were allowed to develop organically and I found it refreshing to watch. And by doing this it created a sort of “quiet” film, if a monster movie could be called that. By this I mean it’s comfortable with itself and the source material. For a movie with no budget it accomplished more than most crap released these days under the ‘horror’ banner.
Nick Nunziata: It give me hope, because we live in an era where everyone has a zombie or vampire story to tell and the air has been mostly sucked from those ideas. Monsters, in this case bio-luminescent Lovecraftian space beasts are a different lot altogether. There are so many possibilities and with deft filmmaking and an ear and eye towards making movies that function with or without monsters, the possibilities increase a hundredfold. In this movie we get to see the human side of a plague, a nation already at a massive disadvantage treated to a disaster in which the only solution is to have a massive wall erected to protect other nations from their problems. Seeing the corruption and the smaller stories within the framework through the eyes of two flawed and real protagonists does wonders for the movie and though there are some intense and one rather poignant moments with the creatures the best moments stem from what’s happening on the ground level.
Renn Brown: It is that one poignant moment Nick mentions that also gives this film some credibility within the monster genre. Gareth wisely shies away from putting the monster visual effects into a ton of intense action- these effects serve their purpose in the brief “combat” sequences but do ultimately suffer from the budget. Instead, Gareth pays off a long journey that is markedly light on monster appearances with a sequence that is touching, beautiful, and demonstrates an understanding of why monsters fascinate us (beyond their ability to bring a bad day to a skyscraper). The scene is dangerous for our characters, but the focus is on the inhuman beauty and uncommon scale of the aliens. This scene really turned me around on the film all the way, because more than any other scene in a monster movie I’ve seen, it made me feel small and scared and fascinated like I do when large-scale monsters show up in my dreams.
Steve Murphy: I loved this film and would recommend it without hesitation. It’s one that will appeal to those who don’t normally like monster movies, because it’s so much more than that. The fact that this was able to be made and have a somewhat wide release is a great thing for the movie industry. I’m hoping all involved will be able to use this as a springboard to greater things (but not necessarily bigger), as all are highly talented. I give it a very firm 9 out of 10.
Renn Brown: I’m not without gripes- there are some clunky, on-the-nose political allusions, though they are mercifully infrequent, and they don’t drag the film down. My biggest complaint is an ending that I may outright hate. I certainly want to give it a second chance though- the film’s journey is simply too beautiful to be spoiled by an initial gut reaction. In any event, anytime Hollywood can be shown that it’s care, intelligence, and heart that makes a movie successful rather than expensively re-purposing the same bullshit, it’s a good thing. Monsters does that remarkably well, and adds a solid entry into the pantheon of small, intimate stories told in a universe that is well within the tradition of science fiction. That this also works as a pure monster movie makes it even more special. It never quite overcomes its budget, or the need for monster spectacle enough to be considered a true masterpiece in either direction, but Monsters is a gripping tale that finds beauty in its creatures as easily as in its humans.
Nick Nunziata: I expected a movie with a few big moments that justified the experiment and got a nuanced and delicate little movie with a few moments that could be construed as ‘money shots’ but in reality they weren’t why I love the movie. It’s little moments of a destroyed ruin with birds circling above or a really rich scene where the leads sit on a temple looking at the big wall surrounding America as outsiders. It showcases that while Edwards could have easily made a cheap movie with a few cool scenes and coasted on it, he chose to actually tell a story and contribute to the genre rather than ride the rails. I love the monsters, but they’re not going to change people’s perceptions. They live in a world we’ve seen before whether in The Abyss or War of the Worlds or in fleeting moments of The Mist. At the end of the day the movie is special because of the creative force guiding it and having seen this I’m as excited for the future work of Gareth Edwards as I am for anyone out there. This is a great little movie.
Renn: 8 out of 10
Steve: 9 out of 10