Monsters directed by Gareth EdwardsMonsters directed by Gareth Edwards

Fortunately enough for me, I first saw Gareth Edwards’ 2010 sci-fi debut, Monsters, as a middle-aged adult, rather than when I was a kid. Decades back, any monster movie that didn’t deliver the titular creature within the first 1/2 hour would invariably leave me very restless; even the great ’50s shocker The Giant Behemoth was pooh-poohed by me back then for withholding its initial glimpse of the film’s radioactive brontosaurus for “too long.” (Hmmm … maybe this partially explains why I STILL consider The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms — in which we see the monster in the film’s first 10 minutes and regularly thereafter — the greatest such film ever created.) So what would I have made of a film like Monsters, in which, despite that title, we don’t get a good, solid glimpse of the alien creatures until the picture’s FINAL 10 minutes, and never get to see them in open daylight? Not much, I’m sure. Today, though, I can appreciate Monsters for what it is: an ingeniously made travelogue film that is more a suspenseful mood piece with sci-fi trimmings — and an interesting, evolving central relationship between its two main characters — than anything else.

In the film, six years prior to its main story, a deep-space NASA probe had brought back to Earth some alien life. The probe had crash-landed in central Mexico, and now the entire northern part of that country has become the “Infected Zone,” walled off from the U.S. while the armies of both countries try to contain the 300-foot-high, jellyfish-like, floating aliens within. Against this backdrop, we meet Andrew Kaulder, an American photojournalist, who is given the assignment of bringing his boss’ daughter, Samantha Wynden, safely home, from central Mexico to the U.S.; their journey by rail, bus, truck, boat and foot makes up the bulk of this extremely captivating film. Absent those monsters, Edwards manages to keep the suspense quotient very high by filming in a semi-documentary manner (the picture was shot on digital video, rather than on film) that alternates with a decidedly dreamlike quality.

Adding to the suspense are all the evidences of destruction that we see during Andrew’s and Sam’s journey — wrecked buildings, trains and boats — as well as those ominous billboards, cartoons and graffitied pictures of the aliens, fighter jets and helicopters zipping by, and extraterrestrial noises. Filmed in Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, the picture looks just gorgeous, with some stunning backdrops; it’s hard to believe that this movie was shot in just three weeks and cost a mere half million dollars to produce (if a certain Wiki site is to be believed). Edwards here proves himself a bona fide quadruple threat, having directed, written, photographed and created all the FX for this, his first film, and Jon Hopkins’ electronic, New Agey score does much to augment the otherworldly vibe.

In the two leads, Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able are very fine and have genuine chemistry together; I was not surprised to learn that the two were a couple when they made the film, and have since married. The picture boasts many startling scenes, none terribly frightening (except, perhaps, for the one with that shopping-cart lady!) but all quite gripping, and if I have any complaint to lodge, it would be the overabundance of nighttime scenes (these scenes don’t translate well to the small TV screen).

Bottom line: It would seem that it IS possible to make an exciting and entertaining modern-day monster movie on a low budget, and with a minimum of actual monsters, if the requisite filmmaking talent is there, as it surely is here. My main man Roger Corman might be suitably impressed! And oh … it seems that Dagora, the star of that 1964 Japanese film, has some serious competition now for the title of coolest jellyfish monster from outer space!


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....