A few months ago, I had commented that the visual effects artists who designed “Skyline” weren’t qualified to make a great movie. However, I have displayed no end of admiration and anticipation for Gareth Edwards’ low-budget creature-feature “Monsters.” For the longest time, I never realized the hypocrisy I used in making that distinction or the double standard that I set. Now, I realize, that there is no double standard.
“Monsters” is set in the near future, in which a probe coming back from the edges of the solar system crashed and infected much of Central America with alien organisms. These enormous octopi-like creatures now thrive in what’s known as the “infected zone,” a place where people and it seems a lot of military equipment have trouble surviving. Two Americans, a photographer and his boss’s daughter, must travel through that zone in order to get back to America.
This movie is a mess, straight up. It has an interesting concept and I respect the fact that it was attempted on such a small budget, but simply put, it doesn’t pull it off. The film DRAGS. My God, does it drag like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m really not sure if there was a point in film in which I was genuinely frightened, or even thrilled. The scenes in which people actually are put in mortal danger are stifled by a dialogue or action soon beforehand explaining how the monsters “really aren’t that bad.”
All the main ingredients of the film, such as acting, directing and writing, are all subpar, at best. Edwards really doesn’t have much of a hand at working with his performers. They wander around, meandering through their boring and mostly meaningless dialogue, trying to create some sort of emotional (or any kind at all, really) link to the audience. Had their been said link, the viewer might not be simply hanging on for some decent monster action and therefore be let down. Instead, we are just as bored by these people as we are by their quest through the incredibly dangerous “INFECTED ZONE,” which should have been more accurately titled, “THE ZONE IN WHICH THE CHANCES OF RUNNING INTO SOME TROUBLE INCREASE BY ABOUT 5 TO 10 PERCENT.”
Another quick note to Edwards in regards to his writing: if you want to try and work a message into your film, try to be a little more tact about it. The film has an obvious metaphorical subplot the relates to the current immigration issue in North America. I won’t go into too many details, but in its application, this facet of the film could have been touched on with a bit more subtlety. I’ve always believed that the softer a director goes about planting his bomb, the bigger a crater it will leave. Edwards couldn’t have worked more loudly if he tried.
Finally, we get to the portion of the film which should have been stellar, no doubt, and that is the special effects. Yes, they are decent, and it is quite a feat that Edwards created the visuals all from his own resources and skills. And yet, when you remove that notion from the equation, the quality really does start to decline. When you look at one of the animated tanks strolling down a road, you think to yourself, “Wow, he did a really good job with that animation.” However, a few moments later, you move on and think, “Even though he did a really good job with that animation, it’s pretty goddamn obvious that it’s not a real tank,” and suddenly, the overall credibility of the film starts to decline.
I cannot say that this was not an admirable attempt at a film, working such a great concept into an incredibly low-budget. Yet, I just cannot bring myself to applaud this movie on any aspect of it. Aside from the above-mentioned fare, the production quality was pretty sad as well. So many shots, day or night, were horribly underlit, mostly because they’re not lit at all. This approach causes nearly all of the night photography to be grainy and indiscernible. In a documentary-style approach, this might work, but it is not, it’s simply low-budget. And as a film student, I hear it said too many times than I can count that “If I had millions of dollars, I could make that film so much better.” Well, I think that even working with this film’s minuscule budget, a number of my friends still could have made a better film.
In the end, what we’re left with is less a film than it is Gareth Edwards’ VFX demo reel. It really does work better as a trailer, for then he can work in all of the pretty works of animating and compositing in short clips of 1 to 2 seconds, and then not have to worry about production, acting, direction, writing, cinematography or any of the other aspects of this film that are going to have to stand the test of time and ultimately….will not.