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Monsters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
12 12 2010

ImageDirected by Gareth Edwards

The best, most intelligent sci-fi, is often as much about the known, familiar ‘monsters' of our external or internal worlds as about aliens, and this debut feature is one of the best and most intelligent for some time. This is a monster movie, absolutely, but one set in our world, or at least the world of devastation elsewhere that we see in the news, where war or natural disaster has made the abnormal normal, and danger is something to some extent accommodated by those bound to live with it, and only for us remarkable because westerners, people like us, are trapped and needing to escape. It is not fantastical, but believably grounded in reality. All the more surprising perhaps, because the British director/screen-writer/cinematographer has a background in special effects rather than directing.

It opens in a ravaged central America, where six years ago, a NASA probe bringing back alien life forms crashed and spread them over an area of Mexico. A contaminated zone has been set up, through which it is deemed to be dangerous to pass, with a huge wall along the border protecting the States from incursion. Meanwhile the military is attempting to exterminate the aliens, which have begun to breed.

At the beginning of the film journalist Andrew (Skoot McNairey) is charged with accompanying Samantha (Whitney Able), daughter of his newspaper's owner, to safety when she is caught up in the bombing. A reluctant, quarrelsome pair, the feisty attractive kind who you know will get it together in the end, embark upon a road trip of increasing danger and uncertainty. The journey soon becomes chaotic and desperate, when even Samantha's wealth and standing back home fails to get them a safe straightforward passage on the last ferry before the closed season when the aliens are said to become more dangerous. They move by decrepit public transport, riverboat, land rover and finally foot to the great wall, and all the while it is dawning on them and us that the devastation is caused almost exclusively by the attempts to destroy the aliens rather than by the aliens themselves. There's more than one echo of Apocalypse Now, one particular telling scene involving a menacing monstrous shape which moves down the river, and is revealed to be, not an alien but a wrecked US aircraft propelled by one. Bombed civilians, a huge wall to keep out the ‘others' from the south, gung ho military - the symbolism could all have been so heavy handed, but it's deftly done and we are as much wrapped up in the adventure as in thinking deep thoughts, and the irony of the situation creeps upon us in a satisfyingly natural manner.

Almost-unknowns McNairey and Able, partners in real life, do an excellent job as the leads, and the rest of the cast, almost all non-professionals, give a very authentic feel to the proceedings, whose shoe-string budget is evident only in the best way, of being economically and unflashily made, with the feel of a good indie. The ‘monsters' often glimpsed in fragmentary fashion, are more awesome than frightening, as triffid-like pulsating pods and as full-on tentacled adults, with a whiff of the mysterious respect due to unknown creatures of Close Encounters. The return to ‘home' is in the end not all it was hoped, and for once one's own back yard is not perhaps the place where after all you want to be.

Seen at Empire Cinema, Newcastle, 3 December 2010

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