Director    Gareth Edwards
Starring    Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Release    29 OCT (US) 3 DEC (UK)    Certificate 12A
5 stars


21st December 2010

Maybe it's because I'm partial to a good alien invasion story. Maybe it's because I like to champion the British underdog. Maybe - just maybe - it's because it reminds me of Jurassic Park. Whatever the reason, Monsters might just be my new favourite monster movie. Maybe it's the title. You know what you're getting from a movie called Monsters. Monsters.

What's clever about Monsters is the fact that the creatures in question aren't actually the main event - well, not really. The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, director Gareth Edwards wrote, shot, edited the film and created the special effects on a shoestring budget, and the last thing you want in your monster movie is some shitty, cheap-looking PlayStation end-of-level boss getting its grubby pixels all over your story. Secondly, scary monsters are all well and good, but the best creature features need a human interest to ground them: if there's nothing believable at stake, then why are you even watching?

What Gareth Edwards has done - and what so, so many directors utterly fail to grasp - is find two actors who share a genuine chemistry, and for whom nothing, not even the relatively outlandish storyline here, feels forced. Hell, the leads got on with each other so well, they ended up getting married for real. It sounds like the sort of PR bullshit you read in press notes and rent-a-quotes, but Monsters really is a love story first and a monster movie second. Also, it's a rollercoaster ride from start to finish!

[gallery]The set-up is dispensed with in a few opening captions - crashed NASA probe six years ago, infected zone in Mexico, here be monsters, yada yada yada - and we pick up the story as photojournalist Calder (Scoot McNairy) is tasked with transporting little rich girl Sam (Whitney Able) across no-man's land to the relative safety of US soil. The threat? 100ft squid-like creatures who have a tendency to get all tentacley when angered. Eventually, the pair grow closer, but at no point do they flirt with cliché or trot out the tired old banter these sorts of situational romances usually demand.

The Jurassic Park factor does Monsters a lot of favours, sharing the same basic theme (humans attempt to navigate a walled-in nature preserve with gigantic fuck-off creatures inside) and, by the sounds of it, a fair few audio elements too (guttural roars do a bloody good job of prickling one's neck hairs). Edwards plays his cards a little closer to his chest than Spielberg did (no Jeep chases or sarcastic mathematicians here) and the movie is all the more effective for it. It feels real - any cracks don't show.

In fact, Edwards has done a splendid job creating an entire universe that's 100% believable - and it's all in the detail. For every crashed passenger plane and shipwrecked tanker (all created digitally, natch), there are other, more subtle hints that this is not our world: danger signs, scarcely glimpsed animated infomercials, maps with ruddy great crosses through, that sort of thing. Though the occasions we see the monsters do impress (showing up the $40m effects in forbear The Mist in the process), it's their mere presence that lingers most.

Monsters asks greater questions of its audience than the usual special effects yawn-fests. The US military is a constant, hovering menace throughout, while Calder and Sam's Mexican guides claim their carpet bombing is killing innocent people. Edwards stops short of bluntly asking, "Who is the real monster, them or us?" but does include a final scene of such breathtaking beauty, you're forced to question whether the squiddies really even are all that dangerous after all.

It's as iconic a scene as the T-Rex bringing the house down in Jurassic Park, and the perfect way to end a perfect debut.

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