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Friday, February 25, 2011

Monsters

Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Produced by: Allan Niblo; James Richardson
Written by: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Whitney Able; Scoot McNairy
Music by: Jon Hopkins
Cinematography: Gareth Edwards
Release date(s): October 29, 2010 (US)
Running time: 94 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English; Spanish
Budget: Under $500,000
Gross revenue $3,486,280

What do you expect when the film is called Monsters? You expect monsters, of course. But Gareth Edwards’ film is anything but about monsters per say, especially in the context of Hollywood monster movies. The monsters are there, creatures which are a cross between spiders and octopuses, with long slimy tentacles, and as the film ends, they perform a stunt never seen in any monster movie ever made.

For me, it was this ending that left a bad taste in the mouth. It’s a small film brilliantly paced and magnificently photographed (a boat on a tree, a plane in the water... it helps when the director is also the cinematographer.). But the ending, — “love conquers all” — destroyed everything for me.

You can call Monsters a District 9 in Mexico, or a sci-fi Sin Nombre, where the script is aware of the political reality between Mexico and the US, and the plight of the common man in the crossfire.

In not so distant future, an NASA aircraft carrying some alien lifeform crash-lands near the Mexico-US border. As the alien lifeform flourishes, and the US government tries to clean up the land with toxic chemicals and explosives, and builds a wall across the border to protect their country, the poor Mexicans learn to live with the threat, where death is an everyday possibility.

Under these circumstances, a freelance photographer is given a task to safely escort his American boss’s daughter out of Mexico, where she was vacationing. Here, the film turns into a road movie, shot in a documentary fashion.

Like all classic road movies, the film begins with the protagonists at the loggerheads. Samantha accuses Andrew that he is always looking for bad news so that he can photograph them and earn some money. Andrew argues that with that same photograph, her father, the media mogul, would earn five times the more. Andrew is jealous of Sam’s privileges, Sam envies Andrew’s freedom. They start travelling by train, which is soon cancelled as the reach near the ‘infected zone’. They decide to journey on foot, taking help from the locals who have learned to live with the aliens. (Apparently, the creatures appear only at night, and they normally don’t attack you unless you provoke them.)

The pair then decides to take a ferry to America, with host of hopeful migrants to the land of plenty (If it reminds you of the riveting Sin Nombre, it does.) The ferry fair is exorbitant, but they take it nonetheless. Then, in the convenience of a road movie, the girl’s passport is lost, and they miss the boat. The next option is to go though the ‘infected zone’, which is dangerous and illegal. The pair, Andrew and Sam, decides to take the risks. They travel on a jeep, a boat, a jeep again, on foot, through eerily quiet jungles, and then a ghost town on the American soil. On the way, they see glimpses of the monsters, experience the fear of anticipation, see their companions hunted by the creatures, and feel the exhilaration of being alive.

All these are done in an unassuming quietness of a National Geographic documentary, than a Hollywood blockbuster, you know what I mean.

Wikipedia tells me that Edwards made the film on a very limited budget and with only a handful of crews. Except the lead actors, all other actors were local non-actors, who were told they were filming a documentary, and most of their dialogues were improvised. The result is fascinating. The film invites the audience to take the journey along with Sam and Andrew, and as you go along, the landscape looks so real, it feel it’s actually happening. The tone here is far more realistic than the showy District 9.

There is a scene in the middle of the film. The boat reaches a shore, with one security with a gun standing there. The place is eerily deserted. There is a broken staircase that leads to the jungle. As the dusk begins to fall, they hear an unusual sound in the air. The monster does not appear. But the fear the sound exudes is palpable. This sense of prevailing fear permeates the entire film, which sets it apart from a typical horror/monster film. There is no attempt for cheap thrills here. The location itself is the site of horror. And the special effects (which Edwards created on his laptop) is understated, in an anti-Michael Bay way.

But, the end! Despite everything, at the end Monsters could not escape from the clich├ęs of the rom-com road film, and for that matter, any boy-meet-girl movie. And when monsters make love, we mere mortals will have to follow.

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