PLOT: Six years from now, aliens have begun to colonize Earth. Each area with a heavy alien presence is known as an infected zone- and the US has built a massive wall around it's borders in an attempt to keep the aliens out. Enter an American photographer (Scoot McNairy) travelling through an infected area of Central America. He's sent by his publisher to pick up a beautiful young heiress (Whitney Able), who's caught in the zone. After their passports are stolen, the two mismatched companions must travel through the heavily infected jungles of Central America in order to make it back to the US border.
REVIEW: Word on the street (and by that I mean the INTERNET- natch) is that MONSTERS cost a mere $15,000 to produce. It's the first film from English director Gareth Edwards, who previously worked as a VFX artist on UK TV. The idea that this only cost fifteen grand totally blows my mind, as MONSTERS is an extremely polished film, with a big budget epic look, that was supposedly achieved through consumer grade DV Cams, and lots of guerrilla style filming on location in Central America, sans permits, crew, etc.
If this is true, then it really goes to show just how far you can get with an iron will and a lot of imagination. Many are comparing this to DISTRICT 9, but thematically, the films could not be any different. While it was relatively inexpensive, DISTRICT 9 in a sci-fi epic. MONSTERS is more akin to something like THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS, or one of my all-time favourite films, SORCERER. Sure, it's about aliens and sci-fi, but you'll rarely see any aliens, and there's very little action. Instead it's all about atmosphere, mood, and the sense of impending doom- meaning that all the security precautions in the world aren't going to save us from an invasion by superior beings.
For the most part, I really dug this film. It focuses on two American characters, played by actors I've never seen before, but both McNairy, and Able deliver top-notch, polished performances. While they aren't the most original character concepts out there (the spoiled heiress vs. hardboiled journalist has been done a million times, going all the way back to the classic IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT), but you'll like them nonetheless. The rest of the cast reportedly consists entirely of locals living around where the film was shot, and that gives this film a sense of authenticity you wouldn't expect in a sci-fi/invasion film.
MONSTERS is a totally stripped down type of film, so don't go in expecting much in the way of spectacle. There's really not much action, and the attacks are shot in a very claustrophobic, intimate way, so you'll only ever get a clear view of the aftermath, and not the attacks themselves. This is obviously due to the budget, but this approach works very well and gives it a totally different feel than any genre flick I've seen in a while. Helping matters immensely is the ambient electronic score courtesy of composer Jon Hopkins. I wrote how a lot of this film feels influenced by William Friedkin's SORCERER, and nowhere is that more evident than the score, which sounds very Tangerine Dream, and I mean that in a good way.
My only real issue with MONSTERS is that in ninety minutes, not a heck of a lot happens. You never really get any insight into the Aliens (in fact, we only ever get one clear look at them toward the end). There are no battles, or even a clear-cut storyline, and you get the sense that a lot of the film was made up on the go. Still, this approach works very well here, and I absolutely enjoyed MONSTERS.
Don't let the low-budget scare you away. There's a reason MONSTERS has been building up a lot of buzz in the last few months, so if you get the chance to check it out, I highly recommend it. At the very least, it goes to show you that there's no limit as to what someone can accomplish, even if they've got the most minuscule of budgets. Creativity always trumps cash, and nowhere is that more evident than here.