Saturday, 11 December 2010

Film Ramble: Monsters

It's an interesting time to be a fan of science-fiction cinema.

I've been thinking that for a while now, but it was it was really hammered home to me by Gareth Edward's Monsters, released in UK theatres last week.

For anyone who doesn't know, the film offers a near-future scenario where alien lifeforms brought back by a NASA satellite have infested a band of land across the north of Mexico.  Into this situation are plunged a stranded US tourist trying to return to America and her waiting fiance, and a world-weary photographer pressganged by his employer, her father, into escorting her home.

That's pretty much the length and breadth of Monsters.  Don't go expecting a frantic war against the alien invaders, because to the best of my recollection, neither protagonist ever so much as handles a weapon.  In fact, don't go expecting much action of any kind.  Monsters is a character drama, something of a romance, a film about two lost souls pushed together in strange and remarkable circumstances and forced to face themselves, each other, and - to a much lesser extent - the implications of sharing their world with giant, squidy, potentially lethal extraterrestrial life forms.

Monsters is also sedate, thoughtful, maybe somewhat slow by mainstream film standards, but heavy with small moments and details that add up to something that, for me at least, was nothing short of awe-inspiring.  It's art-house sci-fi of a kind that no one's really tried to make since it's closest spritiual and thematic antecedent, Andrei Tarkovsky's phenomenal Stalker, and if that thought doesn't turn you off then I can't recommend it enough.

 But, all of that aside, I think (and hope) that Monsters is a touch-stone movie for altogether different reasons.  Filmed on high-definition digital handheld cameras, with special effects and much of the mise en scène added entirely in post production by the director himself, and with a budget that might possibly have covered Sam Worthington's hair styling in Avatar, Monsters is a film uniquely of its time - because it simply couldn't have been made even five years ago.

To put it another way, we're now living in an age where a first-time director* can choose to make an effects-driven science-fiction movie, where a smart indy sci-fi movie can be as visually spectacular as a megabudget Hollywood blockbuster.

And that, at least to me, is pretty exciting.

* Edwards has done lots of TV and documentary work, including the superb In the Shadow of the Moon, but this is his first non-documentary feature to make it into cinemas.

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