I had read many good things about this film when it was released last September and then again in December to a very small number of theaters from anyone who was lucky enough to actually see it. Much was made of how small the budget was and how director Garth Edwards virtually made this film on his own. Garth wrote the script, was the cameraman/cinematographer and also created the over 250 visual effects for Monsters, so the success of this intimate science fiction film wrests squarely on his shoulders. Fortunately, Mr. Edwards’ gamble to not only keep total creative control of Monsters to himself, but to shoot this film guerrilla style in Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Texas paid off with a film that makes the alien elements of Monsters look almost as real as their terrestrial counterparts.
Initially, they make it through without too much trouble. When they begin traveling on a small river boat, they are attacked by one of the alien creatures and the craft is destroyed. They make it to shore and are fortunate enough to hitch a ride with a local militia. Unfortunately, they too are attacked by the creatures on the road and the American couple now find themselves traveling alone in the alien infested territory. With only each other for companionship and protection, Sam and Andy grow from strangers to friends to something more.
The film concludes with the young couple finding their way to the relative safety of the United States, but all is not what they had hoped for.
Monsters is an unusual film for its type. Instead of focusing on the drama of the humans surviving the alien creatures and the harsh environment, it concentrates on the relationship of Andrew and Samantha. This is very much a personal drama and not a science fiction drama. Despite this, I found myself drawn to these very real characters and engrossed in their struggle to survive not only their exterior problems, but their internal conflicts as well. I think this would make a good film to introduce a non-genre fan to science fiction, because it feels so much like real world drama that only happens to have an otherworldly antagonist. I also liked the way the film took the time to establish the political structure of the world that these characters inhabit. We not only see the towering wall that separates the Infected Zone from the rest of the world and the soldiers and military fighting the alien creatures, but we also see the everyday lives of the ordinary people whose lives have been altered by living in such close proximity to these alien creatures.
Science fiction film directors who are creating the bombastic and special effects laden movies of late [see: Skyline], would do well to follow the example of Monsters and take the time to develop their characters. That way, when these characters come into contact with the science fictional elements of their film, the viewer will become more involved in the fantastic, as opposed to being detached from and removed from these elements.
Monsters is deserving of any science fiction film fan’s time. Go out of your way to watch it as soon as you can!