Written and directed by first-timer Gareth Edwards and shot for pennies, Monsters (2010) somehow manages to stand gracefully alongside two wonderful contemporaries: The Mist and Cloverfield. While The Mist is an unrelenting experiment in abject bleakness and Cloverfield is a gripping, jump-out-of-your-seat popcorn movie, Monsters gives us a tale that, while quieter in scope, is no less riveting. And I’m gonna ramble about it now.
In Monsters, we don’t see the start of the invasion and we don’t see the end. Instead, we see the infestation six years in: we see a world that has acclimated to the film’s titular foes, contained them in highly regulated “infected zones”, and then cut their losses. Inside the infected zones, the military works diligently to contain the threat. Outside of them, life continues on in relative normalcy. And, of course, our heroes find themselves pulled out of the latter and thrust into the former.
It’s the chemistry between these heroes—jaded photographer Andrew Kaulder (played by Scoot McNairy) and mysterious tourist Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able)—that makes the film work. And, make no mistakes: it works. Their performances are rock solid and it’s those performances that the film is built around. Monsters is a film that somehow manages to make the ROAR GIANT MONSTERS concept the backdrop for a character-driven picture and McNairy and Able pull off that less-than-enviable task rather perfectly. Their chemistry makes an ending that could’ve fallen terribly flat really soar. It was oddly beautiful.
There’s more to it than just good acting, though. The characters and their story is what hit me the most, but trust me: Monsters’, um, monsters do deliver. They’re nocturnal so they don’t pop up much, but when they do it looks real. It looks about as real as it can look, actually. It looks much more real than its microscopic budget should feasibly allow it to. The effects are used sparingly but to very strong effect, coupled with great lighting and wonderful cinematography (also by writer-director Edwards) that makes them jump off the screen. Just don’t expect them to hog that screen.
In short: Monsters is a monster movie. And a damn fine one. Watch it!