TIFF’s International Program hosted the Canadian Premiere of “Monsters”, with writer/director Gareth Edwards in attendance. The film was the only non-“Midnight Madness” film that I checked out this year, and I was definitely glad I did.
Going into the film, I was thinking about the comments I’ve heard from numerous friends who have seen the advertising campaign, or heard a very rough outline of the movie. Many heard that the film was about an alien outbreak in a containment zone, and immediately assumed the movie was a rip-off of “District 9”. The ads do little to address these concerns, as there are numerous posters warning people that they are entering the “Extra-Terrestrial Infected Zone”, which are very reminiscent of the advance posters for District 9. Believe me when I tell you that this film is very different from District 9 – this film makes absolutely no effort to try and be like District 9, and the only thing that the films have in common is that both feature aliens – then again, so did E.T., and I don’t hear anyone suggesting District 9 is an E.T. rip-off!
Monsters begins six years after a probe with samples of life from inside our solar system crashes into Mexico. Following the crash massive Lovecraftian creatures emerge, and most of Mexico becomes a containment area for the creatures. The massive battles against these beasts have already taken place, and the story begins with humans going about their lives with this new normal where giant alien monsters roam much of the land immediately south of the United States.
The story focuses on a photographer who has been assigned to escort his boss’ daughter from Central America back to the United States. They travel along the Infected Zone to the coast but following a robbery, they miss the last ferry and are forced to travel straight through the Infected Zone in order to get back home.
Monsters is an incredible achievement, and it accomplishes more with its tiny budget than most big studio films could dream of. The special effects are first rate, and the realistic visuals pull you right into the film where there is a sense of dread at what might be lurking around the corner.
I do want to warn film-goers that the title is misleading. If you are looking for some hardcore creature carnage you will not find it here. This is not “Cloverfield” or some “Godzilla” inspired movie. In fact, during the film’s running time you do not see much of the creatures, and there are maybe a half dozen encounters with the beasts in the entire film. The movie kicks off with a military strike against one of the aliens but that is the most action in the entire film – and it lasts less than five minutes. The film is very much a character-driven movie. The two main characters are extremely well-written and believable. As we become attached to the characters, we feel the tension as they move through the infected zone – terrified and yet oddly intrigued about what they might encounter on their journey. It is this sense of tension at what might be there that drives the film, rather than numerous close encounters with the creatures.
If you are expecting a monster movie with lots of action and mayhem you will definitely be disappointed, and you should not spend your money on this film. If you are prepared for realism, and to discover the aliens through the eyes of characters you genuinely care about, then you have to check this movie out – and see the monster movie reinvented!