K Reviews Bluray - MONSTERS
For Six years the Mexico-US border has been closed off and the expansive area declared a quarantined zone. A NASA space probe crashed to earth carrying with it an alien presence and today, the military struggle to contain "the creatures" that are breeding within the zone.
Do not be fooled by the title, Monsters is in fact not a creature feature, horror or thriller, but this does not matter. The director Gareth Edwards had crafted a unique vision of the near future where unthinkable horrors roam the still beautiful landscapes of Mexico but are more of an afterthought to the general populace in the scheme of things. It is a highly contemplative film and Gareth has succeeded in doing what even the most skilled directors with enormous budgets often fail to; convey a genuinely affecting tale of romance in such an uncanny environment and still maintain the credibility of existing within it.
Turmoil and unrest plague the majority of scenes in Monsters; scarred landscapes, distant explosions, plumes of unnaturally colored smoke and the constant fleeting of choppers accompany almost every scene. Even inside there are the constant reminders of fear and danger; cartoons on the TV stress the importance of gas masks and the proliferation of broadcasting reports are reminiscent of the media spin of the war on terror. There is no need to delve this far into the meaning of this however as the director himself has stated that, in such a situation fear is usually met with this media saturated response regardless of it implicating fear campaigns or not.
Signage and many small things make a huge difference in Monsters and it is the director's keen sense of attention to detail that carries the film a long way, considering its tiny budget, CGI-laden process and one man army approach (Gareth did almost everything) and the gorgeous cinematography and ambient score certainly help.
The setting aside, the film can best be described as a reluctant road trip and not an action horror. Most of the army presence is infused, but never really detailed, probably due to lack of budget but also because it would distract from the primary purpose of the film. The road trip aforementioned involves two very likeable protagonists, Samantha (Whitney Able) and Andrew (Scoot McNairy). Andrew is a photographer and must escort Samantha out of Mexico and back to America via the next ferry (Samantha it turns out, is the daughter of Andrew's boss).
Initially he is very unwilling and as they travel safely through Mexico to the ferry port, but they develop a relationship that is restrained by their backgrounds which both are reluctant to discuss. Their attitudes differ greatly; Andrew is innocently ignorant and eager to leave, while Samantha is warm and respectful with the additional bonus of being able to speak Spanish. "I don't cause it, I just document it" Andrew says; his view that sources pay more for pictures of children killed by the monsters changes dramatically and his character grows from the eye-opening experiences he faces when he travels through the 'zone' as a series of unfortunate predicaments finds them without access to America and thus they must make their way, illegally through the infected area.
Their sincere natural banter and interactions with who they encounter carry this film along, with not much happening in between. The scenes between them are tight, and without this sound direction the film could have easily spilled into a rambling mess. There are some minimalist close encounters with the monsters (these scenes were reminiscent of Jurassic Park) and these add a little jolt to proceedings and help grow the characters.
As Samantha and Andrew make their way to the border they begin to understand their particular isolation, to other loved ones and the wall they build up between each other begins to break down, particularly in the final moments of the film. Regardless their personal issues do not overshadow Monsters and it remains a beautiful and genuine journey across a truly unique vision of Mexico.
The extras on the Bluray are a real treat and really enhance the film. Firstly the Australian Melbourne premiere Q&A session really explains a lot about the film and the very talented man behind it all. Monsters was shot very gonzo style; firstly it was low budget but it was also quite improvised with Gareth and his skeleton crew stopping in places where it felt right to shoot a scene, panning away from the actors to nothing and considering the whole time what effective CGI would be in the shot.
Other than Whitney and Scoot almost everyone was not professional actors which genuinely shocked me; in particular the ticket seller at the ferry office who is revealed to be a restaurant owner in real life and was just given a brief (not a script) on how the scene was to play out! The amazing chemistry between the two protagonists is also given clarity when it's revealed that they are both partners in real life (and now married). The director goes on to state that although the scenario was very bizarre, focusing on the trivialities of human interaction helped ground everything, and I have to wholeheartedly agree.
The extras also include the cast and crew interviews which help shed some more light on the process, a B-Roll which gives a better idea of filming and there is also the original theatrical trailer.
Overall I cannot recommend Monsters enough. It is a beautiful film about communication and understanding, set in a conflicted but equally beautiful Mexico and I eagerly await anything else from this very talented director.