Monsters Blu-ray Review
Written and Directed by Gareth Edwards
2010, Region B, 94 minutes, Rated 12 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 11th April 2011
Whitney Able as Samantha Wynden
Scoot McNairy as Andrew Kaulder
Be warned, sci-fi fans, if you’re looking for a thrill-a-minute, explosive, effects laden monster movie then you’ll need to look elsewhere to Gareth Edwards debut feature Monsters. While the film is laden with technical brilliance, it’s a slow-burning love story, wrapped up in a road trip across a post-apocalyptic, alien-infected zone.
Photographer Andrew Kaulder is on assignment in Mexico for his publication, his ultimate aim is to get pictures of the creatures that have inhabited a massive area that covers the northern part of Mexico and the southern part of the USA. It’s six years since a NASA space probe brought samples of extra-terrestrial life back to the area, and the Mexican and US governments have been fighting to keep the creatures under control ever since. The infected zone is home to enormous alien creatures that look a lot like octopi, and stand 100 metres tall.
Kaulder is pulled off his assignment when Samantha, the magazine owner’s daughter, is hospitalised with a minor injury. His new brief is to escort her back to the USA and into the arms of her fiancé. The military is closing down the ports, the trains aren’t running because of damage to the tracks and they can forget flying unless they want to end up in the targeting sights of an F-16. Their only option is to make their way across land. Through the infected zone.
On paper it sounds like the perfect recipe for a rip-snorting adventure-ride through an alien-infested jungle, blowing things up along the way and kicking xenomorph arse at every opportunity. Planes, Trains and Automobiles with aliens, if you like. But it is the absolute antithesis to a typical blockbuster, taking the story very low-key and limiting any action to but a few minutes. The focus is entirely on the couple, and how their relationship builds in the face of adversity. For a film that shatters the cliché of a giant monster movie, it certainly embraces the one that doesn’t allow two opposing-sex leads to co-exist without getting it on.
Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, as Andrew and Samantha respectively, are superb in the lead roles and so they should be; in real life they are also romantically attached. That said, their portrayal of a couple that initially doesn’t find much common ground before falling for each other is excellent. The problem is there’s just far too much focus on them and their relationship and not nearly enough on what the title promises: Monsters.
This first feature from former VFX artist Gareth Edwards was shot in true guerrilla style. Just four crew members, including himself, the two leads and a medium-sized suitcase full of equipment were the resources to shoot the film. The supporting cast is made up entirely of locals from whatever location was being used at the time. Many of the locations used were scouted out minutes before filming started, and before anyone had the chance to escort the cast and crew from the area.
There was no script to work with, and in many scenes the actors simply improvised around a rough framework for a scene, guiding the extras in the required direction. In total, over 100 hours of footage was shot, which was edited down to the 90 minute film that is Monsters.
Hastily set-up editing suites, running on the filmmakers’ own equipment in their hotel rooms, allowed them to process each day’s footage with Edwards even going so far as to add visual effects. Budget estimates vary wildly from $15,000 to $800,000, but a recent magazine interview with Edwards pegged the budget at a measly $500,000, something that is unthinkable for a film that looks better than many costing over ten times that.
It’s an amazing achievement, and the result looks and feels immense, like a production with a crew of hundreds and a cast of dozens. Unfortunately Monsters has been marketed as a sci-fi actioner, in the UK at least, with a trailer and packaging that allude more to Cloverfield than the slow-paced romantic yarn that it is. I’ve got nothing against love stories, but don’t wrap it up in adventure and sell me a dud. For this particular reviewer, Monsters is more lacklustre than blockbuster.
Video and Audio:
Shot digitally at 2.35:1 and presented on Blu-ray the same way, Monsters looks fantastic. The colours are rich without ever being overblown, and there is a real film look to the footage. The DTS-Master HD Audio supports the picture superbly and although the film isn’t heavy on action, the few scenes that rely on a good surround track are really brought to life.
The disc really excels in backing up the main feature with a huge range on extras. For my money, they were more entertaining than the feature, and gave a real insight into the filmmaking process and just how incredible the end result is when you consider how limited their resources were.
There is an audio commentary with director Gareth Edwards and lead actors Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. The behind the scenes featurette runs just under an hour and is an extremely well-made documentary on the set-up and shooting of the film, followed on by half-hour features on the editing and visual effects used.
Finishing off the extras is the obligatory trailer and then Factory Farmed, Edwards’ short film for the 2008 London 48-hour Film Fest .
*Note: The screenshots on this page are publicity stills and not a reflection of the Blu-ray image.*