Double post extravaganza!

Like I wrote last night, this second post for the day serves as penance for not getting in any proper writing yesterday. Having already written about the love that is Calvin & Hobbes, I thought I'd put up a short piece about the excellent indie film Monsters. Shot in 2009 in parts of Mexico, South America and southern Texas for just over half of a million dollars, the film was given a limited release and received generally favorable reviews. 

I stumbled across the film last year while perusing the renowned science and tech blog io9. They had a series of articles detailing how Monsters was filmed with as much of a natural feel as possible, with the locations and extras all being whatever happened and where the director would guide the film - everything was basically found and fairly DIY. All of the extras were local people who simply agreed to improvise their scenes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The premise for the movie is that life is discovered on one of Jupiter's moons and probes sent to analyze it unintentionally bring it back when they return to Earth, crashing in the desert of the Tex/Mex border. The lifeforms grow and spread, despite the intervention of the pertinent governments and the entire area is quarantined as infected and therefor, uninhabitable. The protagonist is tasked with returning a media mogul's daughter to her home in America and, due to extenuating circumstances, have to cross the infected zone. 

What gives the film a breath of fresh air in the sea of mediocrity that is current science fiction is that it relies on the unseen and creating tension through atmosphere rather than bombast and spectacle. It is a quiet and tense, understated film that lets scenes play out in their natural progression rather than rushing the story from one plot point to the next. It is a bit of a road movie, but one that effectively creates tension through the unseen and unknown, which is a refreshingly novel take on a monster movie. The aliens, when glimpsed, are genuinely scary and mesmerizing as a result. The effect is not unlike when Spielberg had to keep Jaws out of the frame for most of the movie, or how Ridley Scott never gave a solid look directly at his alien in one of my favorite movies, Alien. It boils down to quality story telling, the old trick of Show, Don't Tell. 

What I had gotten prematurely started on above was the fact that Monsters was made for a pittance of what a movie of this ilk would normally require. All shots were on location as found, locals provided genuine characters and the special effects, as impressive as they are, were created solely using consumer-level programs and software. No racks of processors and rendering farms with Lucas Arts - just the director and his computer, locked away, editing and slowly going mad. It is indicative of the personal nature of the movie and the passion that went into it. Where many movies would end up just looking lifeless and flat (particularly in this genre), Monsters looks and feels fantastically real and as a result draws in the viewer in a way that is so often lacking these days.

I can't help but be reminded of the recent and highly innovative District 9 when viewing this movie. Both were done on relatively meager budgets (though Monsters was even more restrictive) and both deal with pervasive, human issues through alien allegories. Already out on iTunes, I would highly recommend checking this quiet but innovative movie out. Take a look at the trailer here and see for yourself.

Tomorrow - back on a normal schedule!