Jameson Cult Film Club screening of Monsters (2010) at The Royal College of Surgeons, London, 3rd March, 2011.
Written and Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able.
A NASA space probe containing alien spores crashes in Mexico, turning the northern part of the country into a quarantined area known as ‘The Infected Zone’. Photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) reluctantly agrees to escort his boss’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able) back to America, but their only way is through the infected zone and the alien ‘monsters’ which reside there.
Having heard nothing but good things about Jameson’s Cult Film Club events, I was especially keen to see what they’d do with British director Gareth Edward’s debut, Monsters, which I’d seen on it’s release last year and been very impressed with. The focus on films becoming events to lure the average cine-fan from his home-cinema and comfy sofa has been on the rise of late, with Secret Cinema, Curzon’s Midnight Movies and now Jameson getting in on the act. Some fine early choices for screenings (Taxi Driver, Aliens) mixed in with a cocktail of themed gimmicks and well, cocktails, made for an intriguing mix.
As locations for a cult sci-fi film night go, I’d be pressed to think of a better one than The Royal College of Surgeons in Holborn – a grand, pillared building, lit up for the night in ominous green, foreboding against the icy London sky. The interior of the college seemed to have required only minor scenery adjustments, the long stone halls, giant photographs of the college founders and display cases lending themselves perfectly, giving the air of some sinister government institution, it’s purpose unclear at best. More green lighting, a smattering of foliage and staff running around in decontamination suits added to the atmosphere, with actors portraying the characters moving through the crowds, playing their film likeness’s parts rather well . The giant infected zone map at the end of the entrance hall was a great finishing touch, painstakingly recreated from the film.
Once inside the auditorium, we were treated to a brief Q & A session with director Gareth Edwards and editor Colin Goudie, although the pair remained frustratingly tight-lipped about the upcoming Godzilla reboot, recently announced as the director’s next project. However Edwards did share his experience of timing the amount of time the shark is actually on screen in the first hour of Jaws (three seconds apparently) and how he adopted this approach when making his own feature.
Monsters, despite the presence of the title creatures, bears very few similarities to the monster or horror movies it was initially lumped in with. Obvious comparisons to Cloverfield and District 9 were banded around upon it’s release but the monsters are minor characters here , a presence the world has largely adjusted to and sectioned off safely. Rather, the real focus of Monsters is the main characters, Kaulder and Sam, and their slowly blooming relationship. Equally reliant on each other for survival (Kaulder as the ‘protector’, Sam with her grasp of languages) the pair’s interaction is realistic and believable, helped by naturalistic, improvised dialogue.
Initial expectations of a ‘monster film’ give way to a kind of indie drama by way of the road movie, with the characters discovering themselves and each other via probing questions (“Doesn’t that bother you? That you need something bad to happen to profit?”) and hazardous situations , all against the backdrop of a post-alien world. It’s been said that Monsters is very much a post-modern creature-feature, in that the monsters are almost a mundane inconvenience and are no longer the fantastical, main focus of the story.
Reenforcing this, the only moment when we really see the aliens properly (as opposed to mere glimpses) occurs at the end of the film in a scene so serene and touchingly handled that the aliens are practically humanised – dangerous yet misunderstood, with the same will to survive as our two leads, who stand and watch the creature’s mysterious interaction with awe and respect.
Edwards has apparently stated that he had no intention of any kind of political subtext, but given the setting and the plot (and to a certain degree, the legacy of District 9) implications are unavoidable, but they work in the film’s favour, further grounding the film in reality. America’s recent relationship to Mexico and immigration in the wake of the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (to give just one example) has been rather hostile, and the swift quarantining of the northern part of the country in Monsters could be read as a comment on America’s approach to immigration, erecting a great wall to protect the US from ‘aliens’.
Part road movie, part character study, Edward’s has conjured up something entirely fresh with Monsters, utilising an on-the-fly approach to film-making to create a spontaneous, energetic and personal feature, a small-scale drama masquerading as a hulking monster movie. With such a smart approach to cinema, it should come as no surprise that he’s been handed the reigns to reboot the much-cherished Godzilla franchise. A Brit in charge of Japan’s most famous monster? You’d better believe it.
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