Monday 6 December 2010

Review: Monsters

Year: 2010
Director: Garteh Edwards
Screenplay: Garteh Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

Synopsis is here

I know someone, somewhere is whining about Monsters because "there's hardly any monsters!". To that person I say read film reviews. So many people love to gripe about film reviews because "they have their own opinion" However, other than the fact that reading others view can re-enforce your own conceptions and understanding on matters (be it politics or films), they also warn about certain things like THAT TITLE I ALLEGORY AND THAT TRAILER IS LIES! Ahem, sorry.

Yes once again, the trailer of the film is used to try and sell something it's not and those looking for the next Cloverfield may find themselves a little confused. The title is one of those blatant misleads that reminds one of those old twilight zone episodes. Oh yes there are monsters....and they ain't who you think! etc. Such a tactic may be seen a mile off for a disgruntled cynical cinephile; but with that said, Monsters has more to say than a slight nod to old school sci-fi. It is an interesting movie that helps continue this trend of recent sci-fi that not only utilizes it's CGI in an interesting (and cheap) way but presents an thoughtful (although slightly obvious) metaphor about how we view the alien other.

Much has said about the films cost and it's computer graphics so I'll be brief with this. The film not only looks gorgeous but just just as expensive as say War of the Worlds. Monsters cost $500,000 while Spielberg's 2005 feature cost $130 million but at times you'll be hard pressed to see how big that gulf really is. It is quite clear that Visual effects artist-cum Director Gareth Edwards knows what he's doing with CGI, with his digital shots looking better than some of the weaker efforts seen in other films. But what sets Edwards apart is he has a good hold a certain amount of cinematic language. His shots of the (rarely seen) aliens are mostly at night; not only show the capability of his CGI, But to remind us that it's things that bump in the night that still unsettle us the most. His use of location is also well considered. Like District 9 (2007), the film is enhanced by it's setting. It's not a typical urban landscape that we see constantly in films like this, but something that is also still quite alien to those who may or may not watch art-house features which delve into the central Americas more than often.

It is the location that sets up the metaphor splendidly. At a time when certain voices are highlighting that a change in ethnicity may approaching the U.K and the U.S.  It's pretty revealing that Edwards decides that it is in Mexico (where recent troubles have reared their head involving the state of Arizona) that no only the majority of the film takes place but also where we as an audience discover the the conflicting nature of these beings. I won't say any more, but think of it like Solaris (1972 & 2002) where intent to harm collides with communication.

Lets not get this ahead of ourselves however, as in some ways comparing Edwards to Tarkovskiy is extraordinarily naive. But while there films bounce around in a similar ballpark at points, Edwards is a filmmaker who is seemingly more in touch with his contemporaries than anyone else. All this talk about aliens and least we forget that this is really a romantic road movie, with it's use of setting and characters feeling more a mixture Y Tu Mama Tambien and Lost in Translation more than anything else. When Edwards' camera is focused on the smaller moments (a visit to a 400 year old church is nicely put together) these particles of culture and character work extremely well. These creatures no longer cause large impact on the world, they have been assimilated into part of it. These two leads are now finding new parts of themselves within this  background and the combination of the old and new shows the film at it's most watchable.

It's a shame that while these moments stand out Edwards shows that he is more than a little rough around the edges with other aspects. Monsters (mostly improvised) screenplay is full of forced dialogue with one unfortunate moment having the lead spell out much of underlying subtext upon viewing America's new great wall. Also as a romance I can't say that the meandering pace of the love story and the small chit chat make me believe in the central relationship much. This may be because I've been forced fed sickly sweet rom-coms since mainstream cinema gave up on trying to give us anything different, but with all that said, I didn't just truly buy it.

This is not due to the two wide eye performances of the leads with Scoot McNairy being the standout. It is his character that is given the most development and he runs with it well, with the films more emotional moments stemming from him. This is not to say that Whitney Able's role isn't any less important, it is merely more subdued. The two are more than natural in front of the camera it's just together in this vicinity the real life couple are just a tad too restrained when together.

But this doesn't distract Monsters from being a eye-opening opener. It is beautiful to look at and the film's commentary is not only topical but competently placed through out. Edwards has come out alongside Duncan Jones (Moon) as a Brit director whose view on the sci-fi aesthetic is more than the mere superficial. Whether or not or not a mainstream audience can look beyond the title is a different story.