It would be sad if the story of how British filmmaker Gareth Edwards created his captivating, micro-budget sci-fi film was to obscure its far greater achievement, being as it is a seamless blending of romance, road movie and monster flick. Shot guerrilla-style on location in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico – with two lead actors and local non-professionals improvising dialogue within a loose structure – Monsters immerses the audience in a near-future world where the Mexican population has become blasé about the destruction wrought by giant, squidlike alien beings.
A few years after a NASA space probe broke up on re-entry, a quarantined ‘infected zone’ stretches across Mexico to the US border – and it is through this zone that frustrated photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (McNairy) must escort his boss’s daughter, Sam (Able). This exhausting, epic journey involves trains, pick-up trucks, backhanders, boats, guards and ominous sounds emanating from the jungle.
Desperate comparisons have been made with District 9 and Cloverfield (not least by the film’s own marketers), but the digitally enhanced texture of the atmospheric Monsters – with its weatherbeaten signs, barely glimpsed creatures and edgy encounters – evokes a sweaty, nervous reality rather than a clean, hard-edged artificiality. With the notable exception of the moving monster climax, the best scenes are the quiet, human ones, such as Kaulder flirting with Sam in a seedy hotel while scenes of monster mayhem are only glimpsed on a fuzzy black-and-white TV set. There’s an implicit political dimension too, with constant American bombing raids and a border wall designed to keep unwanted aliens out of the US. Nigel Floyd