Monsters Review

There’s a sense of struggle throughout Monsters, a broken tank here, a jet there, and smoke billowing from smashed buildings. It’s normal, because in Monsters, it’s been going on for six years. Governments have stepped in, signs have been erected, and laws are in place.

For the sake of low budget, the movie ditches all of the shock and awe of the initial discovery, a crashed NASA probe unleashing this horde of beasts. As can be the case, financial constraints lead to creative means, the squid-like massive aliens occupying a quarantined section of Mexico, just south of the US border.

The idea isn’t to scare or surprise, the opening sequence in night vision depicting the closest thing to a battle. Monsters uses the medium for what it is for, telling a story, developing characters, and involving an audience. Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able) are stuck in Mexico, local ferrymen charging exorbitant rates for safe passage. These are two strangers, one a photographer, the other the daughter of a media mogul, now brought together under what the audience sees as extraordinary.

What’s fascinating is that Monsters doesn’t treat the creatures special. TV news reports flicker about various attacks, but it’s easy to see the populace tiring of these creatures. This is something the film could have played with more, replacing news of giant aliens with celebrity updates, cementing how quickly disinterested people have become about the whole thing.

There’s not much to the aliens themselves, the on-screen presence limited not only to keep things cheap, but underexpose their secondary purpose. This is a human story, pushed forward by two people, not this rapidly expanding alien populace. It works. The method creates a stronger bond between these characters, creating something with actual meaning and content for the finale. Tension is increased as they are in trouble from an assault, the first time someone is directly in contact with the beasts on screen.

Drawing those inevitable comparisons to Cloverfield is fair, director Gareth Edwards admitting they beat him to the punch. While similar in style, the tone and visuals are different. Both focus on romance, Cloverfield’s already in progress, Monsters just beginning to blossom. Location shoots offer a different feel too, the wide jungles and ravaged cities a change from the urban setting of other giant monster flicks. There’s an audience who will appreciate the skillfully crafted Monsters, while the rest stick with the expectation Hollywood has generated through the years.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Cheap is the nature of the beast here, Edwards employing the Sony EX3 for capturing the images. This AVC encode to Blu-ray from Magnet is no doubt sufficient for the material. Daylight images are clean, possessing that unnaturally crisp look that rarely produces the finest of details. Edwards has a focus that goes all over the place too, producing sights that at times appear overly soft, but in reality is all an aesthetic choice.

Night brings with it unbearable noise, bathing the image in digital artifacts. Any time lackluster lighting is present, even in darker areas of a room, it’s impossible to miss. A party on the streets of Mexico is barely recognizable at times, one of the downsides of shooting this thing cheaply.

When present, color is naturally delivered. Saturation is pure and never overbearing. Greens of the forest are pleasing, and slightly desaturated zones of destruction carry a pleasing array of earthy hues. Flesh tones follow suit, wholly natural. There are a few sunsets that truly dazzle with their array of oranges too.

A hint of banding is evident from time to time, usually reserved for areas out of focus. Black levels are merely sufficient, any crush during the finale to hide the creature’s legs intentional to keep down the rendering time. Elsewhere, they merely get the job done, lacking a real kick to deliver a pristine, rich quality they seem to be searching for.

Video ★★★★☆ 

The DTS-HD 7.1 mix exists purely for ambiance since the limited action scenes rarely put them into effect. As this one opens, there’s a brief skirmish between aliens and military, gunfire splitting the stereo channels and a few rounds fired off into the surrounds. It’s relatively meager sound design, the low-end struggling to be a presence.

Constant sounds of jets, helicopters, and various sirens are more effective, creating the environments the movie needs to establish its realism on the tight budget. It sounds like there is more going on then there is. Into the forests, birds chirp, insects click, and branches snap.

Another assault kicks off about an hour in, the gunfire again lackadaisical in its presence and power. Alien footsteps register with mild thuds. The bass seems saved up for the finale, a close encounter producing thundering footsteps as the critters pass by the main characters. There’s a slight thunderstorm behind it all too, keeping the ambiance.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Director Gareth Edwards joins Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy for a commentary, the somewhat rogue shooting schedule leading to some interested anecdotes. Four extended/deleted scenes run 20-minutes. Behind the Scenes of Monsters runs a bit over an hour, a fantastic making-of piece that accentuates the hectic, indie shooting style.

There’s a 21-minute look at editing schedule, followed by 35-minutes detailing visual effects. A long interview with Edwards details his schooling and the genesis of the idea for 44-minutes. McNairy and Able also have a sit down chat for 28-minutes. A short Comic Con panel is only five minutes, the information familiar and limited compared to everything else. An HDNet promo is here purely for completion’s sake, followed by trailers and non-active BD-Live.

Extras ★★★★★