Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Watch Monsters online in the UK: Netflix UK
First things first: there aren’t many monsters in Monsters. The only way the film’s title could’ve been more misleading is if they got Mad Men’s Jared Harris to announce the title in his best Gojira voice. But that’s no fault of Gareth Edwards’ debut feature – it’s an engaging and character-driven slice of science fiction. A bit like District 9. But, well, with fewer monsters.
Andrew (McNairy) is a photographer, waiting for that big paycheck to kickstart his career. The best way to snap up some cash is a picture of people maimed and killed by the alien creatures who have taken over a cordoned-off Mexico. Which is why he’s south of the man-made border and looking to head north.
Samantha (Able) is also in Central America. She’s the boss’s daughter, so it’s no surprise Andrew gets the job of shepherding her home. But after they fail to get her on the last ferry before the army’s annual napalm season, a tough travel agent charges them an arm and a wedding ring to risk the journey through the Infected Zone on foot.
Famously shot on handheld with a crew of barely four men and a laptop, Monsters proceeds on its ramshackle road trip with a soft vein of romance. Will-they-won’t-they becomes will-they-won’t-they get eaten behind enemy lines. And it’s to Edwards’ credit that the couple demand the focus of the film’s 90 minutes.
Not that he needs to distract from the shoestring CGI. Never once looking like off-the-shelf models or a budget bunch of pixels, his creatures are a staggering and graceful backdrop for the couple’s burgeoning relationship. Stalking around like elephantine jellyfish, the whole thing looks like a blockbuster despite its amiable indie feel. That’s helped partly by the locations, all superbly chosen and improvised into the alien territory that our two travellers find themselves in.
On the homo sapiens side, Scoot McNairy sounds too cool to be a real name but he’s anything but, matching Whitney Able’s natural performance with his own stubbly presence. It’s a good job they generate an honest chemistry, because otherwise the whole thing would fall apart. Without them we’d just be left with a couple of tentacles getting frisky behind a petrol station.
The interaction between the aliens is odd to witness and remains unexplained, but that builds up an emotional parallel across the piece. This is more a mumblecore drama than a monster movie. Humans would be a more accurate title. But there’s nothing much that needs changing here.
Monsters is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.