Monsters Review: Good Effort
There’s been a bit of bubbling hype surrounding this impressive debut from director Gareth Williams, and not without reason. Here a first time director has brought a moderate British production company (Vertigo) into the limelight by making a quietly epic sci-fi almost single handedly, on a budget of merely $200,000, and with a crew as small as five people. This is one small step for a man, but one giant leap for budget film making.
Knowing this reshapes the viewing experience, but if you’re expecting a British equivalent to War of the Worlds, don’t be too disappointed.
The story begins six years after an alien invasion that has enveloped America like a disease, and whose presence hovers around neighbouring countries with seldom seen menace. Disillusioned journalist Scoot (Andrew Kaulder) meets shaken American tourist Whitney (Samantha Wynden), and agrees to escort her through an ‘infected’ zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border. Romantic tension brews and fades intermittently, privileging a soft, domestic pace to their journey, even while alien life serves a constant threat in the background. The nuanced interplay may strike a chord, but Scoot and Whitney are more like romantic archetypes than complex or engaging characters in their own right. So when the foreboding creatures catch up with them, we are only half invested in their fate.
And yet, the final sequence throws up a moment of extraterrestrial beauty so unexpectedly tender it resonates like the fleet’s final discovery in The Abyss. It’s unfortunate, then, that the story as a whole felt so derivative of other recent sci-fi. The helicopter attack footage in the opening reeks of Cloverfield, the documentary style treatment of the alien presence could hardly have been thought up before District 9, and the world-in-tatters narrative of two souls trudging through barrenness has clamouring echoes of The Road, and other entrails from the Dystopian zeitgeist.
Making a low budget sci-fi and getting it to look like something big is a great achievement, but for a film to really stand apart, the concept has to be unique. This is the cinematic equivalent of a 5’ 6” basketball player practicing furiously so he can join the big boys. After a year he may have upped his game, but the fact is he’s still 5′ 6″ and he’d be so much better at judo.