I have been hearing a lot of hype surrounding this movie since Cannes Film Festival back in May. The critics generally favored this movie and gave it a lot of praise, so I have been very very curious. Lucky enough I was given invitations by this year's INAFFF committee to attend the showings of their Opening and Closing movies. Thanks to them, I had a chance to watch it for myself and I am now writing a review for them.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, this movie basically tells a story of a journalist who's made to escort his boss' daughter back to America through the alien-infected zone in Mexico. The premise is simple enough, but the movie itself is anything but. If you had the chance to watch the trailer beforehand, you might expect MONSTERS to be similar in tone to alien/sci-fi movies such as CLOVERFIELD or DISTRICT 9. Suffice to say, if you walk into the theater expecting huge action set pieces and lots of explosions, you will be disappointed.
At its core, MONSTERS is a drama about the nuances of human emotions and relationship set against the backdrop of alien invasion. There is a recently released alien invasion movie that you could juxtapose it to, SKYLINE. While SKYLINE is more of an alien movie with people in it, MONSTERS is a movie about people with aliens in it.
One remarkable fact about this movie was that it was shot within a limited amount of budget, estimated around $200,000. The film was shot entirely on location: any settings featured in the film were real locations often used without permission asked in advance, and the extras were just people who happened to be there at the time. Edwards did all the special effects himself using off-the-shelf Adobe software. With that being said, the movie still managed to boast pretty nifty special effects. Sure the movie still had that low-budget indie movie feel, with dark shots obscuring the flaw in the special effects, but that is exactly what the movie is. It didn't try to be shiny and glossy, preferring substance over style.
Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy who portrayed the two main characters are relatively unknown talents. The two had good chemistry together. Able who portrayed the girl Samantha, somehow just didn't show a lot of range as an actress. However, it might be due to the material given to her. The script just didn't provide much development to her character and from the beginning of the movie she was just pictured as a girl with a rich daddy who has a problem with his fiancee and wasn't quite sure of what she wanted. The character just wasn't sympathetic enough. The script didn't address the issue that the character had with her fiancee and why she was reluctant to return home. We were just left to assume. Her counterpart, McNairy, showed a broader range and was given a slightly better material. Considering everything though, both actors did pretty good job within the context of the movie.
There were two points of social commentary that the movie tried to get across. The first one was about the state of media that flourish from tragedy and the violent human nature towards something we don't understand. The aliens weren't shown as aggressive unless provoked by the humans first. However, those messages didn't come across as strongly as they should have been. On the other hand, if subtlety was what the director was aiming for, then it was a success. In my opinion though, those messages should have been conveyed stronger and bolder to create a lasting and assuring emotional impact for the audience.
To surmise, as with any sci-fi movie a certain degree of suspension of disbelief is needed to watch this movie for it to be an entertaining experience. MONSTER was definitely one of the superior selection in the INAFFF 2010 movie line-up and it is a nice change from some of the hollow Hollywood movies that are flooding our cinemas.