"If this is what the British director can achieve on a shoestring, one can only look forward to what a bigger budget may bring with monster expectation."

The title suggests B-movie giants crushing tall buildings in a single step and causing scream-frenzies in the street. But the truth is that, despite the presence of squid-like aliens at the centre of this film, this is much more a road-trip romance with a twist than an action flick.

First-time writer/director Gareth Edwards carefully gets round the histrionics of invasion by setting the action six years after aliens have landed on Earth. These huge, tentacled beasts have been confined to an Infected Zone sandwiched between Mexico and the United States. It's spawning time, however, and the monsters are getting restless. All this is great for hard-bitten photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy), who is desperate to capture a live one on camera, but after a night-time attack, he finds himself given an altogether tougher assignment by his boss - to locate his injured daughter Sam (Whitney Able) and nursemaid her to the nearest ferry port so she can get back to daddy in the US. Of course, if she just hopped straight on a boat that would make for a pretty short movie... and it isn't long before this odd-couple find themselves having to broker a deal to get back to the US by land, straight through the middle of the Zone.

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Monsters is a master-class in subtlety. Edwards takes a measured approach to the depiction of the creatures, suggesting them cleverly without showing them close up for most of the film, yet still managing to generate a palpable sense of dread by the use of clever sound effects. Because this is essentially a two-hander between McNairy and Able, there is plenty of time for them to develop a gradual rapport and to bring the characters' histories slowly into the light. McNairy and Able are a terrific pairing - the growing romance helped, no doubt, by the fact that the pair are an item in real life and have now wed.

And while the alien angle makes this film sound similar on paper to District 9, the politics here are much more diverse. There are parallels to be drawn between real-life coyotes charging a fortune to help illegal emigres cross the deadly desert between Mexico and America and our two 'heroes' trying to pay for their passage, while the constant military presence - jets zip about overhead, there's a curfew and everyone has a gas mask handy - recalls the plight for many living in 'occupied' countries such as Iraq. But these political overtones are just that, adding depth to the film without getting in the way of the central narrative.

Edwards proves to be a tour-de-force behind the camera, the cinematography is terrific and all the more impressive when you consider that he and the cast shot the whole film guerilla style, co-opting in locals in Mexico and elsewhere to play the supporting roles. Equally amazing is the quality of the special effects, knocked up by Edwards on his home PC. The script, too, although occasionally overstating what the audience can see for themselves, is surprisingly funny, adept and tender considering much of it was ad-libbed by the leads.

Some of the action towards the ends of the film feels a little overblown compared to what has gone before it but Edwards again proves his talent for suggestion by embedding a subtle surprise in the end of the movie that cleverly adds an entirely unexpected layer to the emotion of what you are watching. If this is what the British director can achieve on a shoestring, one can only look forward to what a bigger budget may bring with monster expectation.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2010
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A human/extra-terrestrial love story cum road movie.
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Director: Gareth Edwards

Writer: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK

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