A spoiled heiress goes on a cross-country trip with a hard-drinking journalist, and falls in love with him — while fending off attacks from giant tentacled creatures. A cross between IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA — that’s how one might pitch MONSTERS, a low budget, large-scale sci-fi romance from Gareth Edwards, who wrote, directed and created the special effects.
The movie quite skillfully disguises its budgetary limitations — the CGI beasts (prawns reflecting elephants) are impressive and convincing, although I yearned for more varieties (perhaps spoiled by the plethora of nasties in Frank Darabont’s THE MIST). Where the low cost is perhaps detectable is in the lack of interaction between the alien fauna and the live action footage — fronds invade a service station but fail to knock anything over, and when the thingies glow with an internal effulgence (like ET), they somehow fail to illuminate the watching humans.
But this is quibbling, since in most respects the great stalking squid are thoroughly impressive, and all in a movie that somehow cost $15,000. The two leads are pleasing, he slightly more interesting than her, and there’s a surprising attempt to tell a small, elusive human story against a backdrop of alien contamination (the creatures are spreading like an ecological disaster rather than a directed invasion). The Mexican set action has an accidental resonance with the current oil spill and a deliberate one with issues of immigration and the perpetual war in the Middle East — the Americans have built a massive wall to keep the homeland secure. Not that much is done with these subtextual traces, but they do intrigue.
Is the low budget the reason there are only two stills available?
In a way, the aspects of the story that seem inconclusive, and the sequences where the story seems too slow to develop are what’s paradoxically most interesting about this modest movie, which applies a whole different pace to the monster genre and, perhaps as a result, won the new director prize for Edwards in Edinburgh.
Saw the film as my last treat from the EIFF, just after getting off the plane back from London. And it seemed fitting to see it just after being in the august presence of the great Ray Harryhausen.