Sunday, 12 December 2010

Scary Monsters, Super Freaks

Let's be honest here- despite the fact that I'm studying Digital Film and Television, there's no way I'm going to be handed the keys to the kingdom straight away when I graduate. I'm not going to be given control of a big-budget blockbuster. Just like with any other industry, you have to be willing to put the work in and be willing to start at the bottom. Still, it's nice when every once in a while, a little indie comes along that holds its own with the big boys.

We found ourselves with a few spare hours in between class last week and decided to saunter across to Cineworld and see what was on. It was a week of slim cinematic pickings- hence why once again I haven't made as much use of my Cineworld card as I told my mum I would when she got it for me. But anyway. We opted for Monsters, which I didn't know a great deal about... but the poster put me in mind of The Crazies, which I really enjoyed, so I figured it couldn't be all bad.
I haven't yet seen Cloverfield- well, that's a lie. I've seen about 15 minutes of the third act. It seems to be the recent yardstick by which all recent monster movies are based, which is most irritating. It really infuriates me when speights of films jump on the genre bandwagon, as every new one which comes along is always a little bit worse than the one which came before it. I put this to the back of my mind since I knew literally NOTHING about what we were about to see, and for this I think I was actually able to enjoy it alot more. The opening scene, of a group of US soldiers in Mexico, is all night-vision shaky cam and for a while I was worried we were about to see Cloverfield Part 36. Thankfully though, once we met our protagonists, all was resolved.

The Mexico of this film is a country divided- but not by any political means. Six years prior to the film's opening, NASA sent a space probe to Mars to look into evidence of extra-terrestrial life. The probe broke apart over Mexico, and shortly new life forms began to appear. Half of the country is quarantined as an 'infected zone'- but unfortunately for US photographer Andrew, it's the half that lies between him and going home. When Andrew's boss asks him to escort his daughter to the ferry back to America, he begrudgingly accepts. One drunken regret later and they have no choice but to head home the long way.

The rest is more of a road movie than a shlocky creature feature, which made for a pleasant surprise. There are only really two members of cast, Andrew and his 'ward' Sam. The two characters have a really natural charisma between them and their relationship develops really naturally. Sam is engaged, but she seems unhappy, Andrew is estranged from his young son and they're both stuck in a foreign danger zone alone. Even though the outcome of their relationship is obvious, you also really want it to happen because it feels like it should. There is a tangible chemistry between the two characters and their initial caution soon gives way to playful banter. I'd have felt cheated if they hadn't gotten together- and I was even more impressed to learn that the script was, for the most part, non-existent. The pair were simply given a brief description of the scene and played it out as they felt it should be. (An effect ruined slightly by learning that they're actually a real-life couple...but still, good on them).

The dialogue isn't the only thing that's ad-libbed about Monsters, mind you. The supporting cast were all locals who volunteered to take part, and locations were used on-the-run. The professional crew consisted of only two people too. I find something really appealing about this guerilla type of film making- it makes the medium far more accessible. Director Gareth Edwards is an established visual effects artist, true, but the 'monsters' are actually almost secondary to the developing relationship of the characters. That said, when they do turn up they're impressive- relief! They sort of look like giant electrical squids... and despite the title suggesting otherwise, they don't take up alot of screen time. The problem with other monster movies such as Jeepers Creepers is that the build up is better than the actual creature- when you see it you wonder what the hell you were waiting for. Sometimes no screen time is better, but thankfully with Monsters this isn't the case.

So not your typical horror then. The film is unique in that it launches you into the middle of the action, then the rest is a bit of a slow burner, but it works. The slightly-shaky camera never looks cheap or gimmicky, and there are plenty of gorgeous shots of the Mexican rainforest. One particular favourite shot of mine was when Sam and Andrew are sitting on a pyramid looking at the wall between them and home- it just looks stunning. If you're looking for something a bit different from your creature features, this is it. I just hope it doesn't spawn too many rubbish imitations... but then again, the one good thing about them is how much better they make the original look. Now, I'm off to find myself a Super-8 camera and a dog sized Godzilla costume. Think it'll work...?

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