Movie review: Monsters

Subtle CGI heavy sci-fi

Much has been said about the scant finances of Gareth Edwards’ debut feature Monsters in the lead up to its release. The film was shot on location in Mexico for under $500,000; extras who appear in the movie were often just people who happened to be there at the time. It’s surprising then that Edwards chooses to open his alien infestation movie with the sort of grand reveal a frugally minded director might normally save for the end.

It’s a bold move even for a movie that does little by the rulebook. Mere minutes in, before the title screen, even before you’ve met the cast, Edwards shows you his alien in all its bellowing glory. It’s a creature that might well be described as a (excellently designed) megalithic extraterrestrial squid, and it’s atypical of a feature that frequently meddles with convention throughout its short running time (a tight, relatively flab free 94 minutes).

For one thing, Monsters doesn’t start its story with the alien infestation. Like last years District 9 (but in every other way, really not like that film at all), Edwards’ movie begins at the point where the aliens have been residents of earth for some time, dropping his leads (real life couple Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy) into the midst of US and Mexican militaries struggling to contain the creatures on the rim of the American border. In many ways, Monsters plays out like a film that begins at the juncture where a film with similar subject matter might end.

For another thing, while there are anxious scares peppered throughout, much of the film concerns the lead characters tentative courtship rather than the creatures’ existence on earth. There are fleeting occasions where a viewpoint similar to Charlie Brookers’ judgement of TV’s Battlestar Galactica rings true (“sometimes you wish they’d stop talking about politics and just have a space battle”), but they’re few and far between, and there’s enough of a sci-fi tinged horror here to satisfy those that might find themselves shuffling through the scenes that resemble that of a romantic edged thriller.

Yet it’s at the very end of the movie where you realise Edwards’ reasons for showing his cards so early; that being a reveal which is even more incendiary than the first, as well as one that asks more questions of his creature than the film has time to answer. It’s a scene that’s incredibly moving, sensual even – and it’s not often you can say that about a movie concerning extraterrestrial squid – with a score courtesy of Jon Hopkins that fits the visuals snugly.

There are few films I’ve enjoyed as much as Monsters this year. There are even fewer films I wish I hadn’t watched so I could watch them fresh from the beginning again.

James McMahon