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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, May 05, 2014

My Favourite Movies: Monsters

This was another of those DVDs I picked up cheap in my local supermarket because I’d seen adverts for it months before but had never gotten around to seeing it on the big screen. I probably ignored it at the time because it looked low budget and, knowing the way my local multiplex operates, probably wasn’t around for very long anyway. What little I knew about it looked at least moderately interesting – it was SF with aliens and stuff – so I took a chance.

The story is a simple one. A jobbing photojournalist Andrew Kaulder is in Mexico taking pictures of the ongoing battle – now six years long – between Mexican and American forces against an alien invasion/infection that started in Central America after a NASA probe crash landed there. Half of Mexico is now under quarantine and piece by piece the zone is expanding despite everything thrown at it. Tasked to check on the health and well-being of a fellow American, Samantha Wynden, caught up in an alien incident he is ordered by his employer to escort her back to the US in safety. Reluctantly he agrees and they catch a train to the edge of the infected zone to catch a ferry around it. When travel becomes more difficult they are thrown on their own resources and the initial spark between the couple – played by the real couple (now married) Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able – begins to grow into something more. When Kaulder is robbed on the morning the ferry is due to leave they have no choice but to cross the infected zone by boat and convoy protected by locals who live in the zone full time. What they see and experience there will change their views of the infection and will change both of their lives forever.

When I watched the ‘making of’ piece on the DVD I could hardly believe how little this movie cost to make. The CGI, which is hardly noticeable to be honest, was largely produced on a few high end PC’s and most of the locations in Mexico and, by the looks of things, the aftermath of Katrina cost very little as the camera crew just showed up, did their thing, and then left before any authorities could ask about permits or permission. This gave the film an almost documentary feel to things and an immediacy you don’t often get in the larger flashier big-budget movies we’ve become accustomed to. When they were looking for an actress to play Samantha it was boyfriend Scoot who put forward the idea of hiring Whitney. It was a good choice. Not only is she very cute indeed she had a naturalness about her that was very affecting. The relationship between the two leads was fascinating to watch and was very well handled without the usual sentimentality or obligatory sex scene. Of course, as basically the only two people in the movie, except for a host of very minor characters, they had to hold the movie together themselves which they did ably. The aliens where more a background menace often heard rather than seen and glimpsed rather than examined in the light of day – which considering the budget was probably a good thing! Much effective use was made of TV screens in the background showing the now familiar green-tinged night vision view of combat against enemies in the distance. Surprisingly there where scenes, minutes long in places, where nothing happened and nothing was said. But rather than detract from the story or slow the plot these pauses greatly enhanced the atmosphere of the whole film giving it added gravitas and realism. About the only thing I couldn’t get my head around was why didn’t they just fly over the zone rather than use a needless elaborate way to get around or through it – but then again if they flew there just wouldn’t have been a film (or maybe a 10 minute short rather than a 90 minute delight). If, like I suspect many people, this 2010 film passed you by seek it out and enjoy a great example of character driven modern movie making.

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