Another District, Another Alien
Reading some of the opinions written about "Monsters" it makes you realise how narrow minded some cinema goers have become, brain washed by big budget, big action, big effect movies that anything that doesn't conform to the norm is boring. They seem to miss the fact that "Monsters" has something these other movies lack and that is atmosphere, be it the atmosphere between the two protagonists we follow or the atmosphrere from the danger. This brilliant creation of atmosphere lifts "Monsters" from being a low budget sci-fi movie to something more extraordinary and as such writer, director, cinematographer and probably a lot more Gareth Edwards deserves applause for delivering this on a budget which wouldn't have covered even one wage on some movies.
6 years after a probe sent into space by NASA to collect samples of alien life crashed on its return in Central America, the area has become an INFECTED ZONE where "creatures" are contained behind high walls and by the American and Mexican military. When a "creature" attack south of the zone causes Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) to end up in hospital, her wealthy father and owner of a paper outlet arranges for one of his photographers in the area Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) to escort her home. But their journey means a trek through the INFECTED ZONE.
Now as stories go "Monsters" feels a bit of a mixing pot because you can draw similarities to other movies such as "District 9" with the restricted area for extra terrestrials as well as "Cloverfield" as we have a couple of people fleeing for safety. But in a way the whole alien compound area is the backdrop to a story about two people and their relationship as they try to make it to safety. You could almost say that "Monsters" is more of a love story than a sci-fi movie which maybe why some people just didn't warm to it, brain washed by big budget movies who see the words sci-fi and think big action and effects.
As such in a way this story of Andrew and Samantha is quite traditional as initially they are wary of each other brought together because photographer Andrew works for one of the papers that Samantha's dad own and happens to be in the Mexico area when she is injured. But as they are forced to travel together, they cautiously chat get to no each other and having been through various adventures become close, they have bonded although neither wants to make their feelings clear. Maybe that is disappointing but set against a sci-fi back drop makes it much more entertaining than it seems.
As for that sci-fi back drop well this is where the atmosphere kicks in because on a small budget Gareth Edwards has used traditional tricks of less is more. The wonderful use of sound as Andrew and Sam travel down a river makes you on edge and it seems all the more dangerous because they are in a foreign country where their grasp on the language is limited. Throw in a clever soundtrack which accentuates the tension of the situation and you have a movie which gets your heart racing because you are on edge, aware that there could be danger but never sure where it is going to come from.
This being different to the norm for a sci-fi movie also extends to the performances with many of those acting not being actors, it makes it raw and natural. And that extends to our main characters Andrew played by Scoot McNairy and Samantha played by Whitney Able because their stilted interactions feel natural. It feels like they were told what a scene was about and then worked out the dialogue themseleves, feeling it out as it goes along.
But what is to be honest the most staggering aspect of "Monsters" is the budget, which was reportedly less that $20,000 which when you think how entertaining this movie is you wonder how those big budget movies blow so much money. The thing is that it never feels low budget, the camera work is great, the locations are brilliant and the special effects which are created with off the shelf graphics packages look better than you expect. In many ways it is such a shame that people have called it boring because it isn't some action packed sci-fi extravaganza because it is clever film making.
What this all boils down to is that don't think of "Monsters" as a sci-fi movie because the sci-fi aspects of alien creatures on earth is just the backdrop to the main story which is the relationship which forms between the two main characters. It is well made on a ridiculously low budget and it is full of brilliant atmosphere from the minute it starts right up until it ends.