review

A review of Monsters in less than five words

About four years ago I saw a film called Primer, a no budget science fiction film about two engineers who accidentally invent a time machine, and try to wrap their heads around the complexity of their actions, and the power at their disposal. Primer won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, and Kermode gave it a decent enough review, and in spite of it being at times impenetrable and wilfully ambiguous, it really left its mark on me.

It’s a film I often recommend to people, even though really, it’s definitely more to be admired than enjoyed. Primer commands repeat viewing, which is always a bonus. It also makes no concessions to its audience, in fact, it probably credits them with too much intelligence at times. This approach has earned Primer a cult following, and its story sparked one of the most fevered and complicated debates that I’ve seen anywhere online. That’s not the real reason I like it.

The main reason I love Primer is because it’s the work of a first time director, Shane Carruth, who also wrote, starred in, scored, edited, and performed countless other tasks to turn the film around (his parents are even listed in the credits as the film’s caterers). And he did all of this on a reported budget of $7,000.

Anyone watching the film might find that hard to believe. Its shots are grainy and burnt out (it was shot on super 16mm and then blown up to 32mm), but Primer looks very much like a credible movie, and there’s nothing that really that gives its budget away. What really impressed me was that Carruth had no prior experience of filmmaking. No shorts. No ads. He was an engineer, with a pretty brilliant idea, and he taught himself everything he needed to realise that idea.

It’s this sort of endeavour that I find truly inspiring, and one that the film industry should be holding up as an exemplar of what can be achieved for very little money. But apart from some warm reviews, I can’t say I was ever swept away by the media’s coverage of Primer.

Thankfully, there’s no such danger of overlooking Monsters, which doesn’t really deliver any of its B movie promise, but somehow manages to be compelling, beautiful and thought-provoking (if only just to try and figure out what kind of film it actually is).

It’s the first feature-length effort from visual effects whizz Gareth Edwards, and you’d be hard pressed to read anything on it that doesn’t trumpet the fact that it was brought in at around $15,000.

You won’t believe it.

I came out of a screening thinking it was made for $100,000 and was still impressed. Then I read that it was made for a sixth of that sum, and I can’t decide if that’s not just a brilliant bit of marketing and a punt at trying to shift some “pro-sumer” cameras. This post from Slashfilm explains how the film was made for so little money, and it’s probably feasible, but I don’t know. The film feels a little too polished (the sound and score are just superb) and some of those extras were just a little too good.

It doesn’t matter really. If Monsters is a $15,000 film then it’s a great sign that even if we’re all broke and the Film Council is dead, we can still have great cinema (that doesn’t involve gangsters). And even though Edwards is not a novice with only interest and time on his hands, his efforts will hopefully inspire more people to get up and get involved.

If that was all that could be said about Monsters, it would be enough. But luckily, it’s also [Review alert] somehow very bloody good [As you were].

Just don’t ask me what kind of film it is.