Gareth Edwards’ Monsters is a creature feature with a human touch…
AVAILABLE ON DVD, Blu-ray
“We’re not really making a film. Vertigo explained that to you?” says the guy shooting the behind-the-scenes footage as director Gareth Edwards sheepishly cradles his camera, looking like he’s raring to go. “Nobody watches Apocalypse Now any more, they just watch Hearts Of Darkness… There’s now a whole studio set-up where you just make a Making Of but you fake making the film.”
It’s a cruel gag that kicks off the behind-the-scenes documentary, and from the look on Edwards’ face, it seems he was expecting this conversation to take place for real. Who wouldn’t expect the rug to be pulled from beneath them, given the speed at which Vertigo Films picked up his treatment (no script, just a concept) and put it into production?
If the title of the movie conjures up visions of Godzilla pummelling a giant moth (and the trailer suggests similar creature action), then prepare to have your expectations shattered. This is no Cloverfield. What we get instead is a sensitive tale of two lost souls, thrown together as travelling companions as they head across Mexican terrain. The monsters standing between them and entry into America are born of the samples from a crashed NASA probe. The resulting new life forms are large and deadly, so much so that half a continent has been walled off to contain them.
If it sounds like Hollywoodscale shenanigans, the result is far subtler. This is a concept sci-fi action movie, shot on the hoof and racking up 100 hours of material on a ‘let’s see what works’ basis. The CGI would also be handled by its director, who pitched his computer skills as part of the film’s small budget (estimated at less than $0.5 million, it looks as if it cost at least 10 or 20 times that).
The film’s most amazing achievement, though, is that the monsters aren’t the main draw here. It’s the relationship between photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and vacationing boss’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able) that sparkles amid an alien-yet-familiar world, and casting the real-life couple to create that on-screen chemistry was a masterstroke by Edwards.
“My main goal when we started was, would I end up with a DVD that I’d be proud to put on the shelf with the other films I like? And I think we did that, I’m pretty happy with it.” Modest to the last, but Edwards is right – this is a film that will sit happily in the most prestigious DVD collection.
DVD: There’s a real honesty to the material included here, as well as a wit and a charm that big Hollywood productions would struggle to replicate. The behind-the-scenes has exactly the right level of rawness you’d expect from a low-budget production. If the doc was too polished it would be odd, given that only four crew and two actors made up the entire posse. It all boils down into an in-depth guide to guerrilla filmmaking, where editing takes place on upturned drawers in a hotel, as drive-by scenery that was spotted while travelling is cut with improvised, spur-of-the-moment acting, sometimes including non-actors who were scouted for roles minutes before cameras rolled. The featurettes build upon this, revealing the insane job of an editor looking at such a mountain of material, where everything was improvised and traditional camera coverage went out of the window. They also profile the design of the creatures, with Edwards adding to his roles as writer and director by animating them successfully. Meanwhile, the commentary is as free-form as the process of filmmaking. It’s the weakest of the bonus features and yet that shows how strong the others are – the chatter between Edwards, McNairy and Able offering a perfectly competent breakdown of the film, if a little less revealing than you’d hope (although some of the anecdotes about safety issues add colour).
BLU-RAY: The only difference from the DVD is a slightly easier navigation system to pick through the extras and a rise in picture quality – the effects holding up well in hi-def. Shame an original four-hour cut wasn’t smuggled onto the disc.