Director Gareth Edwards took a crew of seven, including the two lead actors, went off to Mexico and shot a movie without permission from the locations or even additional cast members. He captured enough footage that he was able to transform it into a cohesive story about an alien infestation on Earth. Monsters follows Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) as he helps bring his boss’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able) out of Mexico back to the United States to safety. However, between them and home is the infected zone, the place where giant tentacle creatures emerge every year and wreak havoc on civilization.
More interesting than the rudimentary story that actually unfolds on screen is the back story and the world built for this movie. And that’s something to be proud of too. It’s not too dissimilar from our world, naturally, but that is to the film’s credit as it feels like a realistic depiction of how society might transform under these circumstances. Alien life has become an invasive species on Earth and people are reacting how people are likely to react. The military and governments are freaking out, but the citizens, for better or for worse, are more or less used to it and just trying to get by regardless. Building a society for your movie is an achievement and I feel that this is where the film excels the most.
Monsters looks sharper and more professional than most movies made for this budget. There are high school dramas that cost more than this film was made for. Considering its ambition and scope, it’s an impressive achievement. And this is reflective of the world of film changing. If you have even a small group of people committed to making a project happen, you can make a film that looks pretty damn good. Cameras are affordable enough now that it’s not a huge chunk of the budget. And in this case, Gareth Edwards is a skilled special effects artist. He tackled the CGI that made this film happen by himself and it looks professional. It’s no wonder that he was scooped up to direct the 2014 Godzilla. He proved he could handle the material.
The tone of the film is gritty and has a sort of down in the depths look to it, like it’s a documentary, at times. Perhaps that’s a natural consequence of the guerilla film making, but it helps the audience feel the reality of the world that they’ve created. It’s pretty immersive when you get caught up in the depths of the Mexican jungles.
But Monsters is a movie for directors and specials effects kids. Writers may find themselves frustrated. The script is just functional enough that the movie could be made. The ideas are there, but the story is flimsy and the dialogue is clunky. It feels just like Edwards wanted to show off what he could do with a camera in his hand and a consumer special effects program at home. And it does that and he impresses in those respects, but unfortunately there was a real missed opportunity to mould a better script and tell a more well crafted story. It wouldn’t be hard to find a writer friend, or take his script to someone and workshop it a bit. Though, I don’t even know how much of it was even written. Apparently there were a lot of scenes where the actors were just given a vague notion of how the scene was supposed to play out and they just gave it a shot. But that’s risky even with seasoned actors and I just don’t think these two had the chops to pull it off well enough.
Major props to Gareth Edwards for getting this project off the ground. Having the ambition to just go out and shoot your film, especially one that is knowingly special effects heavy, shows a drive to really make it in the business. If his intent was to make a film that would get him noticed and break into the industry, then Monsters is a complete success. It did get him Godzilla after all, which I really enjoyed. But it wouldn’t have hurt him to just get a little bit of outside input as far as the script goes. Even just to have it doctored just once more could have gone a long way. He can say that he made his vision come to life, but imagine if he could have called a better movie his vision.