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Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
For more about Monsters and the Monsters Blu-ray release, see Monsters Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 28, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
» See full cast & crew
Monsters Blu-ray Review
An improvised indie sci-fi fable that works wonders on a tiny budget.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 28, 2011
It's a shame "Aliens" is already taken, as the title—with its dual meanings—would be perfect for Monsters, a British indie sci-fi film that uses America's response to an extraterrestrial invasion as a metaphor for the curbing of illegal immigration by means of overly harsh border control. Along with intimations of Cloverfield and The Mist, the most obvious cinematic analogue is 2009's surprise alien-apartheid blockbuster District 9—in which "prawns" stranded in Johannesburg are forced to live in a walled-off shantytown—but Monsters is its own entity entirely, an exotic road movie, a quiet romance, and a stunning example of what can be done on a budget with some special effects know-how and a willingness to toss out the moviemaking rulebook. Although it's not a perfect film, and will likely disappoint those looking for a typically action-heavy alien shoot-em-up, Monsters rewards patient and curious viewers with a convincingly realized alternate present where humans and extraterrestrials live in uncomfortably close proximity.
Most aliens-on-Earth movies are set during the aerial dogfights and mass destruction of the initial invasion, letting the filmmakers get the most CGI bang for their big budget bucks. Director Gareth Edwards, however, took an opposite approach—largely out of necessity. With under $500,000 in funds at his disposal, he opted to create a film where most of the devastation has already taken place, and where the aliens—enormous land roving, squid-like monstrosities—are already at least somewhat contained. In Monsters, the past is literally prologue. A brief text introduction explains how a NASA probe returning from some distant corner of the solar system—where it found traces of life—crashed over Central America six years ago, "contaminating" vast portions of northern Mexico and leading to the rise of these Cthulu-ish beasts, who rapidly acclimated themselves to their sub-tropical environs.
Little else is spelled out for us, but it's clear from the demolished buildings and continued military presence that the monsters wreaked significant havoc before getting fenced off on all sides. Much like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, there's now a buffer between Mexico and the U.S. border, which—and here comes the incisive social commentary—is clearly delineated by a concrete wall hundreds of feet high. The "aliens"—both human and extraterrestrial—simply aren't going to get in. What's especially interesting is that the Mexicans who live near this "infected zone" are long past the point where they're still shocked about the existence of the monsters. They just want to get on with their lives. There's a vaguely post-Katrina element here; just like residents of hurricane-prone areas are apt to stay put, the Mexicans treat the creatures as a destructive force they just have to put up with.
Our window into this ravaged world is Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist traipsing around Mexico trying to get the perfect shot. Just when he finds himself in the middle of the action—the annual "migration" of the monsters during their mating season—he's tasked with escorting his news-tycoon boss' daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), back to the U.S. safely. Naturally, he'd rather be right in the thick of it than playing babysitter for a rich heiress, but he's operating under a few faulty assumptions about the journey and Sam. Little does he know that this excursion will put him closer to danger than he's ever been, and closer—as it goes—to falling in love. As you'd expect, there are numerous complications along the way, both personal and impedimental. For one, Samantha is engaged to a guy back in the States—although she doesn't seem too keen on him—and two, Sam and Andrew miss the last ferry out of a soon-to-be-shuttered Mexican port city, forcing them to make a perilous journey through the infected zone.
There are some canyon-wide gaps in logic here that go unaddressed—like why the two stranded gringos can't just hot-tail it to the nearest airport and catch a flight home—but if you can excuse a few narrative inconsistencies, Monsters is a trip well worth taking. This isn't your average alien-addled adventure. We get only fleeting glimpses of the creatures through much of the film, only seeing them in their entirety during the strangely low-key finale, which resists the guns a'blazin' action of similar sci-fi fare in favor of an almost spiritual conclusion, allowing our protagonists to marvel at—not destroy—these otherworldly and seemingly sentient beings. (Beings, we notice, who only attack when provoked.) If you're looking for all out carnage, firefights, or run-for-your-lives terror, you'd do well to look elsewhere. (Although there are a few tense moments, in particular a Jurassic Park-inspired scene that has Sam and Andrew hiding in a Jeep while one of the creatures destroys the lead vehicle in their convoy.) Rather, Monsters is very much a road movie, a travelogue in which the obstacles faced by the characters mirror, to some extent, their own internal journeys. McNairy and Able—who were dating when cast, and now married—are enjoyable travel companions, and it's satisfying to watch their characters slowly open up to one another, even if story isn't exactly the film's strong suite.
When you consider how the film was made, however, Monsters becomes a marvel of low-budget ingenuity. The entire film was shot in five countries over three weeks, with the director, the film's two leads, and a crew of four traveling from location to location in a minivan. All of the extras you see are locals who just happened to be around, all of the dialogue is improvised, and director Gareth Edwards shot everything himself, with no reliance on lighting rigs, focus pullers, dolly tracks, or any of the other standard accoutrements that go along with moviemaking. He then returned to England with over 100 hours of raw footage, which he handed over to editor Colin Goudie, who had the unenviable job of finding the story within all this material and whittling it down to a 96-minute film. No easy task, I'm sure. Once the editing was locked down, Edwards created all of the film's 250 visual effects shots…by himself…using off-the-shelf software…in his bedroom. It's amazing, really. The CGI doesn't approach the uncanny photorealism of big-budget sci-fi films like Avatar, but it totally works. I almost feel like people should see this film just to thank Edwards for his near single-handed effort.
Monsters Blu-ray, Video Quality
Given how the film was shot—entirely by director Gareth Edwards, handheld, with little to no supplementary lighting—Monsters looks quite strong on Blu-ray. The high definition video footage translates into a 1080p/AVC-encoded image that's lush and clear and—without going overboard— really does capture the atmosphere of traveling alone through an unknown country. Because all of the footage is handheld, focus slips from where it's supposed to be occasionally, but what is in focus is always more than adequately sharp, with plenty of detail visible in the actors' faces, the costumes, and the jungle foliage. Whoever did the color grading—and I wouldn't be surprised if it was Edwards—also did a fine job, as the picture has palpable warmth and tight contrast. The one downside to shooting with no additional lights, however, is that some of the nighttime scenes are extremely noisy. That said, viewers should be aware that this really couldn't be avoided, and besides, it never gets to the point of outright distraction. Likewise, there are no real encode-related issues to draw your attention away from what's going on in the story. I was quite impressed with the image as a whole. For better or worse, but mostly better, it's certainly true to source.
Monsters Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is even better. As you probably gathered from my review, this isn't a film loaded with non-stop explosive action. There are definitely a few isolated moments, and these sound great, with bullets ripping through the soundfield, missiles arcing past, and helicopters beating between channels. Where this track really excels, however, is in its constant use of immersive, puts-you-right-there-in-the- middle-of-the-scene ambience. You'll be surrounded by chatter in the hospital, the hustle and bustle of a train station terminal, and the festive atmosphere of a Day of the Dead celebration. Out in the infected zone, birds sing, insects hum, cows moo, crazy-ass monkeys howl, and of course, there are the ominous, elephantine trilling noises that the alien creatures make off in the distance. It all sounds wonderful—crisp and real and dynamic. All of this is complemented by a moody ambient electronica score by Jon Hopkins that surges and sweeps, underscoring the general this-is-dangerous-for-us- to-be-traveling-here vibe. The dialogue occasionally sounds a hair low in the mix, but never to the point of unintelligibility. For those that need or want them, English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available in easy-to-read white lettering.
Monsters Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Monsters Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
With a title like Monsters you might expect an all-out action/horror extravaganza, but Gareth Edwards' film is focused more intently on the internal drama of his characters' lives, using an alternate vision of the present where aliens roam northern Mexico as more of a backdrop than anything. But what a backdrop it is. Edwards has created a convincing alien-infested world on a budget that probably couldn't pay for a single episode of some high profile TV shows. And that's impressive. If you're a fan of out-of-the-box sci-fi or rule-breaking moviemaking in general, Monsters would make at least a solid rental for a Saturday night.
Monsters: Other Editions
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• Monsters Blu-ray Announced - November 30, 2010
Magnolia Home Entertainment has announced Monsters for Blu-ray release on February 1, 2011. In this British low-budget science-fiction film, alien life forms spread south of the US after a NASA probe crash-lands in Central America. A digital copy will be included ...
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