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Monsters review

They’ll never make them like this again,” said George Lucas to Martin Scorsese as they strolled through the gargantuan Gangs Of New York set.

The implication was that any film of such scale and sweep would henceforth play out on the CG-scapes favoured by the Star Wars overlord. While this hasn’t (yet) proved true, Hollywood’s canniest chequed shirt might not have been entirely wrong either.

Written, directed, designed, DP’ed and SFX’ed by one man – for peanuts – and improvised on the fly with a cast of two across Central America, Monsters is the world’s first home-made sci-fi blockbuster, or at least the first that can stand toe to toe with the big boys without feeling embarrassed about its trainers.

British SFX whiz Gareth Edwards served a frustrating apprenticeship in TV docs before unleashing his feature debut’s squid-like space beasties.

Though he spikes his sun-burnished landscapes with ruined buildings and vehicles, this isn’t an imaginary world reduced to the capacity of a hard-drive, but the real one embellished by gorgeous CG anomalies.

It’s not fantasy, but an impossible documentary from a possible future. One thing’s for sure, as Edwards racks focus on incinerated alien limbs and children’s corpses, that galaxy far, far away has never seemed further.

Byway to the danger zone

Following Godard’s maxim that “films should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”, the film begins with a brilliant flashfire-strafed action scene.

The upshot is an early reveal of one the squids (the result of a NA SA space probe that crashed six years previously) in all its marauding glory.

It’s a smart move because the pace soon slows (and stays) at a contemplative meander as we meet American photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and his boss’ daughter, Samantha (Whitney Able), who Andrew must escort home from Mexico avoiding the ‘Infected Zone’, a walled-off containment area to which the aliens (somewhat messily) migrate every year.

Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, and pretty soon the pair are Apocalypse Now-ing their way up the river into the unknown. There’s even time for a little Wagner.

Charismatic but uningratiating, Andrew sees life through his own cynical viewfinder, while Sam glides along with the untouchable serenity of the wealthy.

Moving with shell-shocked indifference through shifting levels of strangeness – foreign towns, eerie jungles, a decimated evacuation zone – they begin to thaw towards each other, the two actors (who are now married in real life) tenderly sketching in the beats as romantic possibilities flare then falter.

“You don’t have to do it perfect,” she tells him, tenderly, as he bandages her hand, a sweet summary of the film’s woozy, patchwork realism.

Edwards takes a similarly low-key approach to his direction, using half-seen CG warning signs, ominous details (bloody handprints smeared across an abandoned barge, howler monkeys screaming in the trees) and atmospheric but ready-made locations (the hurricane-ravaged Galveston, USA) to suggest a many-textured world drifting inexorably to hell.

A new hope

Those expecting to see an equatorial Cloverfield won’t be disappointed, but they may be surprised: Monsters plays out more like The Road: A Romance than a traditional creature feature.

To the inhabitants of the Infected Zone, the aliens are old news, a nebulous concern in an area used to immigration and outbreaks of territorial violence.

But it’s also because Edwards and his performers seek a cinematic experience beyond mere pointing and staring, where a kiss on the hand has as much impact on the audience as the sudden appearance of an outraged space cephalopod.

True, there’s something occasionally remote about the film’s kaleidoscopic delights. But you’ll leave with no doubt of Edwards’ capacity for empathy. He proves his stones as a showman too.

This may be a story about slow-blooming love and otherness, both ethnic and extra-terrestrial, but it also promises monsters. And, when they eventually re-emerge in a thrilling, fog-shrouded ambush, flinging trucks into the trees like the natural heirs to ILM ’s groundbreaking T-Rex, they’re nothing short of awesome. Not too shabby for an ambitious computer geek who saw Jurassic Park as a teen and thought, “Yep, I could do that.”

While it’s only fitting that Edwards should pay homage to heavyweights such as Spielberg and Coppola, they may not see the joke. With his innovative, one-stopshop method of production – and an unforgettable film to boot – he may well prove their equal or, indeed, their usurper.

Not only should Monsters catapult him unstoppably into the mainstream, it might just change moviemaking forever. Maybe Lucas was right after all.


The most audacious debut since The Blair Witch Project. As a film it’s a couple of notches shy of a masterpiece, but as an achievement it’s completely without precedent.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • kali119

      Dec 3rd 2010, 13:12


      I've seen it recently and.. It was monotonic, slow action longish conversations which led to predictable finish. Some moments were good but there was not enough of them to sustain the movie on average level regarding cheesy plot incorporated. Moreover, the monsters were too artificial, they were disconnected from the main action and as in trailer show up just several times over the whole film (mainly via sound). It's not very well invested 2h :(

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    • xpialidoceous

      Dec 3rd 2010, 17:35


      5 stars 'Total Film' ... REALLY? Did you guys see the same movie I did? Sadly I'll have to agree with kali119 here. Knowing that the film was shot without any kind of tight schedule does redeem it a little - but the overall experience was a tedious one. The 'action' is predictable and boring and the 'we are all creatures looking for connection' undertone is layered on too thick and emphasized even more by the 'we do need to put some monsters in a movie called Monsters' final scene. Does it have some good features? Sure. The actors make the most of their one note characters and the cinematography has moments of unknown beauty - but that doesn't make up for a drag of a movie that lacks tension or drama you actually care about.

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    • philmorewest

      Dec 3rd 2010, 21:38

      I would agree. I thought that this was a rather monotonous film, and I kind of stopped watching/caring less than half way through. I didn't think it was anything particularly special.

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    • strongbow21

      Dec 4th 2010, 16:52


      the film truely sucked, i was not entertained in the slightest, it was predictable, the main characters were dull and too boring to care about. It's fantastic the way it was made and produced etc blah blah blah, but it doesn't alter the fact that it was boring, monotonous and not entertaining in the slightest. Really dropped the ball on this one total film, love you anyway though

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    • JohnJDuffy

      Dec 10th 2010, 12:41

      No stars from me, one of the most misleading, tedious and annoying films of all time. Yes the photography and visuals are brilliant but the lead characters are instantly dislikeable so it is hard to care about their stupid budding romance. Five stars is way too much but I don't take notice of any of any reviews since Transformers 2.

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    • SLaffy

      Dec 13th 2010, 11:19


      I have to say that I really enjoyed this movie, I liked that the pace was quite slow , the characters weren't overwhelmingly likeable but I still found their stories interesting, and I think there were enough really tense moments dotted throughout the picture to keep the momentum going - I'm not sure if a title like 'Monsters' is going to mislead people in to thinking this is going to be an action-packed creature gorefest, but I was more than happy with the film as it was.

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    • devilsfoxes

      Dec 27th 2010, 6:30


      wonderful review total film. don't listen to the naysayers. it is for its genre what blair witch was to horror. if you didn't like blair witch, you won't like this I would say. both films value restraint and atmosphere over quick thrills and the multiple "money shots" that have dominated their respective genres. both films also offer extremely subtle storytelling that bleeds ideas and possibilities beyond the frame rather then filling the narrative with conclusive action. it was such a relief to see a film where we build to few moments of raw power ala jurassic park, then numb us with predictable quick fire tension. this is as thoughtful as district 9 but far more heartfelt and subtle. reminded me of grizzly man. great review TF, the only film review outlet sticking by its integrity and love of films through and through.

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    • matty2392

      Feb 1st 2011, 17:41


      First of all this is not a five star film. But it is a superb achievement for film makers and any upcoming film makers, captured the setting perfectly never knew if a monster was going to pop out and scare you. All you people saying it was rubbish obviously was expecting a big monster movie like godzilla , the shows how humans are monsters for the way treat the monsters by needlessly bombing them with chemicals and then imprisoning humans.

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    • chalmy

      Apr 12th 2011, 8:20


      Yes its a great achievement for one guy but come on TOTALFILM, this is at best a 3 star film that has been way overhyped to a 5 star because of this fact. The trailer is misleading making itself out to be a big budget all action monster flick to get our bums on the seats in the cinema. I personally found it dragged its feet too much and as a result i kind of lost interest after about halfway through and i am not the type of guy that needs constant action ( i really enjoyed "The Road" for example). One of the most disappointing films i have seen in relation to my expectation levels with all the hype and false 5 star reviews :-(

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    • jonathanmock

      Mar 15th 2014, 16:56


      A sublime film that repays repeated screenings as more details emerge from the understated joy. Anyone expecting a Michael Bay mash-up may be disappointed or impatient as Edward's dips into wider palette than his big-budget contemporaries and the result is more nuanced with a satisfying depth to the way the story unfolds and the characters grow. There are action set pieces and they do not disappoint, but the things that stand in the memory are the quiet moments, beautifully underlined by Jon Hopkins' sublime score. Edward's paints a wholly believable world through the use of clever signage, the ever present buzz of helicopters and jets, and TV news that becomes everyday background noise - all conjured at home on his PC - along with opportunist location filming that is cleverly woven into the plot. It's a slow film and it requires a certain immersion, but it repays that investment with interest, to the point that second time around, the ending becomes even more heartbreaking. An astonishing debut and Edward's second feature - a little film called 'Godzilla' - suggests his touch for story and character has not been misplaced.

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