Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Kaiju Road Trip: Monsters

Gareth Edwards is better known for the not-terrible 2014 American Godzilla reboot. But he got the job with a film that is the polar opposite. Monsters is a 2010 film, written and directed by Edwards, on a budget of less than a million dollars. As more films are made with kaiju, other and newer approaches are being taken with them. Genre tropes are swapped. Monsters is fully a kaiju film, but like Demeking, it owes a lot more to another genre, in this case, the road trip film. Sam and Andrew are thrown together in Mexico and must overcome the difficulties on the road to their destination. Which that includes the northern section of Mexico which is now an 'infected zone' loaded with giant monsters.

Into the Infected Zone we go.

The film is shot in a very cinema verite style, similar to Cloverfield, and like Cloverfield, it concentrates on the humans in the midst of giant monsters. It does not, however, have the infamous shaky cam. Andrew is a photographer, and has been assigned to get Sam out of Mexico and back to the US by her father, Andrew's employer. She's engaged to someone else, and the two initially seem to have very little in common. An interesting note is that the stars, Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, got married shortly after the film was shot.

The human protagonists, ladies and gentlemen.

An unspoken co-stars of the film is the Central American countryside. It's beautiful, and because the film was made guerilla-style, a portion of the commentary is the crew reminiscing about the fascnating places they had visited, including Copper Canyon. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, and nicely textured.

A beautiful morning in the Infected Zone.

The subtle twist is that this is six yerars after the initial invasion. The monsters, unnamed in the film, are not new. They are a known quantity. Where usually we watch the monster trash buildings, in Monsters, we see the buildings already trashed. And some of these have been left damaged, and the people nearby make do or avoid them,. But there isn't enough money or political will to even tear then down. This establishes the atmosphere of the film beautifully, a future, not of despair, but where such things are accepted. This is not the hopeful Pacific Rim where humanity is fighting valiantly against the invaders. This is the future where we make a holding action, and try not to talk about it. But wherever there's a televisdion in the background, there's a news bulletin about the monsters. So while the monsters, which are never named, are not seen throughout most of the film, they are a constant presence.

I live here. Where else will I go?

Of course, the always-present television.

Once Sam and Andrew are in the Infected Zone, the tenor of the film changes. The creatures are constant menace. They are heard, the evidence of their presence is everywhere. Ruined buildings dot the countryside. Strange noises boom across the landscape. America has build a wall to keep the monsters out, an idea picked up by Pacific Rim and as effective as it is in that film.

The oh-so-effective wall.

We also learn about the behavior of the creatures. They leave some sort of spoor, a form of reproduction, on the local trees. These light up, and give a beautifully otherworldly impression.

Extra magical mushrooms.

Of course, we don't get a good look at them until the end. In some ways, they are like Godzilla's MUTOs; they are large, and they are lookning to mate. Unlike the MUTOs, however, they seem ambibuous. The MUTOs are large and do not care about what they tread on. These creatures, on the other hand, do not. We do not see them trash any buildings. They carefully step around a gas station in the final sequence of the film. Is it possible that they are attacked only because they are large and frightening. In his commentary, Gareth states thast if you want to overanalyze the film (which is what I do), you can read into the film that the constant media barrage makes the creatures more aggressive than they are.

Of course, being scared is a logical conclusion.

Still, the creatures are very cool looking, large internally bio-luminescent land octopi.

Hey sexy mama, wanna kill all humans?

Monsters is kind of light, but the performances are intersting, and the direction is interesting. Monsters is not the standard kaiju film, but it is an interesting meditation on kaiju-human relations.

One of my favorite images from Gareth Edwards' Monsters.

A sequel, Monsters 2 will be out this year, and it seems to be getting mixed reviews. The creatures seem different, so perhaps they are adapting in differnt locations. Hopefully, it will have a wide enough release that I'll get to see it in the theater. Next week, back to Japan!

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