Indie & Foreign

An indie flick that’s light on monsters but heavy on atmosphere.

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Monsters is a labor of love for Gareth Edwards, who would later be known as the director of the 2014 Godzilla relaunch. It’s easy to understand why he got the job: the movie, shot on a shoestring budget, serves up a tense and original monster story, and treats its subject matter with a respect very rarely given to giant monsters.

Faced with a tight special effects budget (Edwards created all the digital effects on his home computer), the director chose to tell a human story where the monsters often move unseen or in the background. This choice pays off, as the monsters’ sparse appearances make them all the more menacing when they do show up on screen. The result is one of the most effective kaiju movies in recent memory. Though the plot sometimes revolve around the characters acting stupid, they’re believable enough that we recognize these as the results of human flaws, for the most part.

If there’s one aspect in which the movie falters a little, it’s in its reliance on existing tropes, including a few Jurassic Park homages that are a bit too on the nose. These detract from an original setting full of atmosphere and tension, but ultimately don’t undermine the movie altogether.

Watching Monsters before the release of 2014’s Godzilla definitely lay my fears about Big G’s return to rest.

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[do action=”moment” emo=”Meh” title=”Nothing says ‘no budget’ like opening text.”/]

It’s nothing bad per se, but I can’t help compare this simple opening exposition about the arrival of monsters with the way Pacific Rim showed us the early days of the kaiju invasion. Perhaps it’s actually better this way, because it takes all of ten seconds to give us the lowdown on the landing of the space aliens, and we dive right into the character story.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Interesting” title=”This is a metaphor for the drug wars, isn’t it?”/]

This story takes place in Mexico, where innocents are killed in senseless violence while the USA are trying to prevent the danger from spilling into their territory. Yep, this sure sounds like a metaphor for cartel violence in Northern Mexico. It’s a metaphor featuring giant monsters, so I’m totally cool with it.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Happy” title=”A realistic depiction of Mexican people? From a monster movie? Huh.”/]

I didn’t expect this movie to make me miss Mexico so much. It’s really spot-on in portraying the warmth and friendliness of Mexican people. I loved seeing the mother who takes them in and warms up when she sees them playing with children. I love the noise and excitement of a night on the zócalo. This movie is doing a fantastic job of making me empathize with the victims of giant monster attacks.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Facepalm” title=”Did he just get the fucking passports stolen?”/]

Yep. Letting the passports back in the room with his one-night stand was a $20,000 mistake right there. I’m trying real hard to keep cheering for Kaulder, because he’s really likable to me somehow, but that was one major fuck-up.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Cliche” title=”The movie re-enacts its favorite scene from Jurassic Park.”/]

I kinda wish the scene where Sam and Kaulder are trapped in the pick-up truck with a rampaging monster outside didn’t remind me so much of the T-rex scene in Jurassic Park. The effects are great, the tension is there, but there’s just this sense of déjà vu that I can’t shake off.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Intense” title=”Kaulder loots the dead.”/]

There’s something unsettling about the scene where Kaulder has to resort to looting the dead for his camera and a gas mask. It’s so simple, yet vivid and realistic. It really drives home the tragedy in a way that I’ve never seen a monster movie do before. I now understand why someone at Toho decided this director was their man to direct the new Godzilla; this movie is taking a premise that’s rather silly at face value, and injecting it with a sense of realism you’d only expect from war journalism.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Cute” title=”Are the monsters… kissing?!”/]

Neat little detail as we see two monsters presumably mate in front of the gas station. These are not evil aliens, just an invasive species doing what every other species does: survive. Oddly enough, it makes them even more terrifying, because the violence they visit upon Mexico is nothing personal.

[do action=”moment” emo=”HolyShit” title=”Nice, a happy ending… Wait, did the guy hum ‘Ride of the Valkyries’? Aww, shit.”/]

I love the ambiguity of the ending. At first glance, I thought this was just a bittersweet happy ending, a bit like Lost in Translation, oddly enough. But no… Remember the opening scene where the military convoy gets punked by an alien? One soldier was humming Ride of the Valkyries on the way in, and we heard him again at the end before Sam and Kaulder get picked up. Which means this entire movie was a flashback to the opening attack. So I guess Sam and Kaulder’s survival is up in the air. Shit.

Monsters (2010)

Not an earth-shattering movie, but considering the budget, it's a major accomplishment. The story moves much slower than you'd expect from a creature flick, but the result is possibly the most "realistic" monster movie I've ever seen. And since Gareth Edwards is the guy directing the new Godzilla movie, I'm now excited beyond belief.


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