“I wanted to have a plan,” says Gareth Edwards about plotting his movie debut. “And then I wanted reality to come along and piss all over it.” Call that a case of ‘job done’, in the best possible way.
Edwards’ creature feature delivers satisfying genre jolts, but they’re boosted by its fertile mingling of fantastical and messy real-world elements: CGI miracles and grass-roots authenticity entwined with knockout clout.
Just as Jaws needed its shark, so Edwards doesn’t cheat on his movie title, despite the limits imposed by an Avatar’s-teatrolley of a budget.
His alien octopi are awesome and awful, looming and luminous, otherworldly and fully integrated into his film’s world – an unprecedented achievement that looks greater still when a bonus featurette tells us Edwards nailed all 250 effects on his own over a mere five months.
Granted, the story hosting said visuals scrambles the influences of two-handed rom-road-river movies It Happened One Night and The African Queen, cheap genre-twisters like Night Of The Living Dead, sci-fi allegories like War Of The Worlds and any number of talk-tastic US indie flicks.
When morally muddled photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is forced to escort his boss’ principled daughter Sam (Whitney Able) across Central America, avoiding an ‘Infected Zone’ occupied by tentacular aliens, you don’t need a map of Mexico to guess they’ll wind up in love inside the no-go Zone.
Journey and landscape pull us in, establishing a scuffed context for effects and characters to ring true and resonate. The disc’s great 55-minute Making of shows Edwards pursuing real-deal details to “sell the world” of his story: he shot on the hoof across Central America, had his leads improvise with locals, and filmed every road sign before adding his own words in post.
The result grounds new-school tech magic in old-school texture, its found-footage flavours recalling the raw lyricism of Werner Herzog over, say, George Lucas.
McNairy and Able add vital subtleties, suggesting character development in tender increments without ever stressing a point. Edwards tackles subtexts with similar understatement, not hectoring but hinting at how we may now be desensitised to atrocities such as ‘collateral damage’.
This ability to imply rather than bash you over the head stays the course, right up to a climax that transcends ‘money shot’ status with its sublime, ambiguous, plot-loop twist.
That combo of subtlety, scope and control was already in place on Edwards’ 2008 short Factory Farmed; included on disc, it’s a test-case in how to suggest a sweeping, emotive narrative in tiny, telling details (a teddy bear in a muddy puddle, say).
If Edwards can sustain that finesse at tentpole scale, he might achieve the impossible: weather the studio storm and make Godzilla look exciting again.
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