SXSW 2010 Review: MONSTERS

Will Schiffelbein

by: Will Schiffelbein
October 29th, 2010

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on March 18th, 2010.

Rating: 3.5/5

Writer: Gareth Edwards
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able
Studio: Magnet

Due to my daily coverage of the movie news beat, it is a rare occasion that I find myself sitting down to a film that I know nothing about. Usually, by the time I'm watching the movie on the big screen, I've been inundated with two or three trailers and a slew of production stills. Nine times out of ten I've read the synopsis and have a certain familiarity with the film's story. However, last night I walked into a film where I only knew of the film's title - MONSTERS.

This film follows Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photographer who is assigned to cover an area of Mexico which has become infected with an alien species. These aliens have been quarantined in central Mexico, surrounded on all sides by a giant wall and the United States military. Despite his protests, Andrew is tasked with escorting his boss's daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), back into the safe zone across the border.

The performances in the film are something to savor, something to latch onto. There is a genuine air of familiarity to each word, which contributes to crafting entirely believable characters with realistic actions. The tone of realism is often given a harsh juxtaposition with the fantastical elements of the world that these characters trek through. It's this sort of dialectic that makes the film so incredibly interesting, something so tangible as the love between these characters blossoms in such fictional milieu.

The film's focus lies almost entirely on this unlikely pair, and the relationship that their environment, circumstance, and fate fosters. This isn't to say that this is the film's only success, however. Director Gareth Edwards has constructed an incredibly unique world told through guerrilla-style filmmaking. Through the implementation of tasteful and restrained CGI, the audience can live in this world alongside the characters and fully invest themselves in their environments.

Similar to DAWN OF THE DEAD's contextual placement in the zombie apocalypse timeline, MONSTERS doesn't take place at the onset of this alien invasion. Instead, it takes place six years later. This setting allows for a degree of social commentary, world-building, and psychological examination that is often unseen in films of this genre.

The film isn't without flaws, but they're insignificant when compared to the total achievement of the film. At times, the dialogue comes across as blunt and choppy. Most of the film is made up of improvised scenes built around a short scene synopsis. Every few scenes, this attribute rears its ugly head. Also, there is a certain attention paid to the monsters during the film's third act which serves as only a distraction to the payoff we're getting after our hour long investment into these characters.

One one level, MONSTERS is a brilliant entry into small budget sci-fi. On another level, it's a real and beautiful love story told in a way that I don't see very often. It's a real film, with real flaws, but I don't think that should diminish its achievements. For telling one of the most sincere love stories I've seen at this festival, MONSTERS succeeds in a tremendous fashion.

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  • Ben Brown

    A terrific movie, made all the more impressive when one considers the film’s miniscule budget and resources. In terms of testing the limits that one can go to create a fully realized action film without an extravagant budget, the past few years have been nothing short of groundbreaking–just a year ago we had Neill Blomkamp knock it out of the park with ‘District 9′, and now Gareth Edwards has created an equally impressive vision with an even SMALLER budget. I’ll say it again: absolutely incredible. Next up: the Brothers Strause with ‘Skyline.’ Cross your fingers it’s better than ‘AVP: R’…

  • Johnyawesome

    Movie is weak, story line consisting of trees getting poisoned by military planes then emerging victorious after alien sex over a gas station, after unplugging the playing sports of course. whack wizzitit whack

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