The story concerns the aftermath of a NASA space probe which collected alien life forms from outer space but then crashed in Mexico, half of which is now demarcated as the "infected zone". Six years on, the US and Mexican military are still struggling to contain the giant creatures while people are forced to either leave their home or try to adapt to their new visitors. Andrew Kaulder (McNairy) is a photographer for a US newspaper and is assigned the task of getting the newspaper owner's daughter Sam (Able) back to safety in the US.
One of the first things you notice about Monsters is the way in which the characters fail to react to news about another air strike or deaths in their local vicinity. So far down the line, they have become inured to the shock and terror and the virtual warzone has become part of every day life. In this way it is about as far removed from War of the Worlds, Day of the Triffids or Cloverfield (all of which are referenced) as you could possibly imagine.
Coming from a CGI background, Edwards has created all of the creatures himself and when we do see them (which admittedly isn't very often) they're very impressive indeed. (Even notwithstanding the terrible 3D conversion job, they far outstrip those present in this year's Clash of the Titans, for example.) But actually, not showing them is at least as effective as having them on-screen all the time – less is definitely more in this case. The focus therefore is on the characters and in McNairy (so good in Screenjabber favourite In Search of a Midnight Kiss) and then real-life girlfriend (now wife) Able, the story and relationship develop slowly but naturally as they make their way across country towards safety. With no script in place and no other actors in the film at all – everyone else who appears was a local who Edwards convinced to interact with his characters while they played out a scene – there is a tremendous sense of realism to their encounters which means you really buy into the lives of the two protagonists.
For all the talk of CGI (planes, helicopters and even signs were added in post-production), it's actually the real beauty of the central American locations which help make this such a joy to watch. As well as directing, writing and doing the special effects, Edwards was also behind the camera and captures some truly stunning and memorable images. Coupled with Jon Hopkins' haunting score, Monsters is a wonderful, almost poetic travelogue of a film, seamlessly combining road trip, love story and, to a much lesser extent, an alien "invasion". Often quiet and contemplative and with the emphasis on the people rather than the titular monsters, this is a superb film made on a tiny budget, and one which I suspect will have a very long shelf life.
EXTRAS ★★★★ A terrific package that really delves into how the Monsters project came together and actually got made. An audio commentary with writer/director/cinematographer/visual effects designer Edwards and stars McNairy and Able; Behind the Scenes, a making-of featurette (55:15); the Editing Monsters featurette (23:21); the Monsters VFX featurette (28:46); the short film Factory Farmed (5:12), with an introduction from Edwards, which he made for the Sci-Fi London 48-hour film challenge; and the trailer.