This week I watched a film called Monsters. It is that rarest of breeds, a British science-fiction film - although it is not actually set in the UK. A NASA space probe crash lands in Mexico and infects the Central American rainforest with alien creatures. Photojournalist Andrew is asked by his wealthy employer to escort his daughter from South America back to the United States. Complications ensue and the prospect of a simple plane journey and his employer’s gratitude rapidly turn into a nightmare trek through the extraterrestrial infected zone.
Director Gareth Edwards does wonders with his budget of $500,000. Ordinarily the hide and seek antics of the alien creatures might appear to be a budget restriction – and undoubtedly they were – but Edwards does such a good job with the cinematography, tension and haunting quality of the film, that this doesn’t seem an issue at the time of watching. Edwards certainly deserves plaudits for his guerrilla-film making skill. The film’s central conceit is a good one: instead of seeing monster invasion mayhem we are treated to a journey through its apocalyptic aftermath. The representation of the aliens themselves is also interesting. They are a menacing nuisance, that has to be quarantined and contained using border controls and military intervention. This fresh approach is welcome and echoes a concept in District 9, which was another film I enjoyed.
More problematic is the script. There isn’t one. Edwards had his two leads improvise dialogue during the shoot. He shot four hours of footage which he then boiled down to the 94 minute running time. As a writer I dislike this approach. I feel that great films tend to begin with great scripts and pointing your camera at a pair of actors and hoping for the best doesn’t really cut it. The two leads also lack chemistry, which is all the more surprising given that they were actually a real couple.
I enjoyed Monsters. It kept me engaged while I was watching it. The problems arose afterwards for me. Edwards has undoubtedly achieved a great deal with a solid initial idea and a tiny budget. For this he deserves our respect and a larger budget for his next film. Perhaps I have been conditioned by the gluttonous CGI excesses of recent sci-fi fare but in the end I did come away from Monsters a little unsatisfied. More alien-lifeform-for-your-money and a well-crafted script could have turned this into something really great.