A uniquely satisfying entertainment that may nonetheless pose formidable marketing challenges.

Kaulder - Scoot McNairy Sam - Whitney Able

By audaciously turning inside out the narrative conventions of traditional sci-fi thrillers about extraterrestrial invaders, “Monsters” offers a uniquely satisfying entertainment that may nonetheless pose formidable marketing challenges. The title creatures appear only fleetingly during writer-director-lenser Gareth Edwards’ arresting indie, which concentrates more on the human drama of characters under pressure while traveling through what is essentially a war zone. Some critics will be quick to parse the pic for sociopolitical metaphors, but mainstream auds might complain about unfulfilled expectations. Theatrical and homevid prospects will depend on the effectiveness of a carefully targeted ad campaign.

Opening scenes briskly establish the pic’s premise: A humongous swath of Mexico has been quarantined after squidlike creatures crash-landed there as stowaways aboard a NASA space probe. Occasionally, some of the enormous extraterrestrials wander outside the officially designated”infected zone” to destroy lives and property. For the most part, though, the threat is contained within an area to the north — along the U.S.-Mexico border — by a colossal fence.

Popular on Variety

Photojournalist Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is on assignment in Mexico, eager to take pictures of the creatures, when he’s ordered to escort Sam (Whitney Able), his publisher’s daughter, to a far-off port where she can board a U.S.-bound ferry. Due to bad timing and worse luck, however, Sam is unable to leave on schedule, forcing Kaulder to find other, riskier ways of getting her back to the States.

Edwards begins”Monsters” with a bravura faux-verite sequence, as heavily armed U.S. troops attack a multitentacled beast on the streets of a Mexican city. For a long time after that, however, the pic settles into a doggedly realistic, almost neorealistic mode, as Kaulder and Sam establish an amicable but wary relationship while making their way first to the port city, and eventually into the infected zone.

Here and elsewhere in”Monsters,” the dialogue is fluidly improvised and the emotions, even during jokey interludes, are bluntly expressed. The sense of verisimilitude is skillfully sustained as Kaulder and Sam journey through the infected zone led by native-born ferrymen and heavily armed mercenaries.

At times, the picture recalls suspenseful treks through war-ravaged landscapes in dramas as diverse as”Apocalypse Now” (which is none-too-subtly referenced before the opening clash) and”Salvador.” The big difference is that, instead of worrying about Viet Cong irregulars or right-wing militia, the protagonists here must guard against attacks by giant squids. A nice touch: While the Americans are repeatedly shocked, the locals take an almost matter-of-fact approach to avoiding danger.

Edwards and a small production team reportedly shot”Monsters” guerrilla-style in various locales throughout Guatemala and Mexico, using local nonprofessionals in supporting roles and dropping CGI effects into the mix — everything from army tanks to mile-high fences — after the fact. But the most spectacular f/x aren’t really f/x at all: Climactic scenes were shot in areas of Galveston, Texas, devastated by Hurricane Ike.

Edwards attempts a tricky balance of gritty-indie style and horror-movie substance — if John Cassavetes had ever made a sci-fi thriller, it probably would’ve looked and sounded a lot like this — and he pulls it off with an improbable degree of success. Credit must also go to McNairy and Able, whose unaffectedly naturalistic and sympathetic performances ground”Monsters” in reality, and editor Colin Goudie, who keeps the pic seamless and suspenseful.



Production: A Magnet Releasing (in U.S.) release of a Vertigo Films production. Produced by Allan Niblo, James Richardson. Executive producers, Nigel Williams, Nick Love, Rupert Preston. Directed, written by Gareth Edwards.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Edwards; editor, Colin Goudie; music, Jon Hopkins; music supervisor, Lol Hammond, production designer, Edwards; sound, Ian Maclagan; special effects, Edwards; assistant director, Maritza Carbajal. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Fantastic Fest), March 18, 2010. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: Kaulder - Scoot McNairy Sam - Whitney Able

More Film

  • Imogen Poots

    'Black Christmas' Star Imogen Poots on Why Male Horror Fans Should See Slasher Remake

    “Black Christmas” is the second remake of the 1974 slasher classic, which centers on a group of sorority sisters stalked by an unknown murderer. While the original had the female protagonists (SPOILER) offed, in this one, the women fight back. “It’s been called a re-imagining of the original, and I think, in ways that the [...]

  • Imogen Poots as Riley in "Black

    'Black Christmas': Film Review

    “Black Christmas,” a low-budget Canadian horror movie released in 1974, was a slasher thriller with a difference: It was the very first one! Okay, there were more than a few precedents, from “Psycho” (the great-granddaddy of the genre) to “The Last House on the Left” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” to Mario Bava’s “A [...]

  • David Benioff, D.B. Weiss. Creators and

    'Game of Thrones' Creators to Develop H.P. Lovecraft Movie at Warner Bros.

    Following their exit from the “Star Wars” universe, “Game of Thrones” co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have found their replacement pic, signing on to produce an untitled thriller based on the graphic novel “Lovecraft” for Warner Bros. It is unknown if they will also direct the project, but they’ve already set Phil Hay and [...]

  • Little Women Greta Gerwig BTS

    Greta Gerwig and 'Little Women' Crew Mix Modern and Classical

    Greta Gerwig wrote and directed Sony’s “Little Women,” a new look at Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved 19th-century classic. Eager to pay tribute to her artisan colleagues, Gerwig says, “It was a joy for me to work with all these people. It’s a movie that’s impossible to create without world-class artists. They killed themselves for me!” [...]

  • Honey Boy

    Shia LaBeouf's 'Honey Boy' Adds Unusual Twist to Oscar's History With Kids

    Hollywood has made many terrific films about childhood, and many about filmmaking. Amazon’s “Honey Boy,” which opened Nov. 8, combines the two: A movie with a child’s POV of the industry. That unique angle could be a real benefit during awards season, and the film’s backstory — with Shia LaBeouf as the main attraction — will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content