In 1998, Roland Emmerich, armed with millions of dollars, top-notch FX and a star cast, made Godzilla, one of the worst summer blockbusters of all time. Last year, Gareth Edwards, armed with $500,000, a couple no-name actors and FX software he bought off-the-shelf, made Monsters, arguably a minor masterpiece of its genre. There’s a lesson to be learned here – besides the obvious one, which is “Roland Emmerich should really stop making movies.”

Monsters is unique from other giant monster movies in that it does not focus on the initial monster attack, but rather the aftermath of all the devastation. You know how all those Godzilla movies always gloss over the massive recovery that would have to follow one of those giant battles? This is finally the movie that gets into that. It’s six years after a space probe broke up over Mexico, which in turn led to giant aliens appearing in the country. These creatures have now become an unfortunate part of everyday life – the US and Mexico military’s have cordoned off a large “infected zone” on their border, but from time to time the aliens still pop up in populated areas in Mexico. It sucks big time (understatement), but the residents are simply too poor to leave, and so must live in constant vigil of the next “attack.”

The film follows an America photojournalist tasked with bringing his employer’s beautiful young daughter back to America from a vacation in Mexico. Unfortunately, due to a couple mishaps, their only option to get back is to cross the “infected zone,” an essential no-man’s-land where the two must always be on the lookout for not only the aliens, but also regular military air-strikes.

It sounds like a pretty action-packed premise, but be forewarned – this is NOT a movie to watch if you’re just in the mood for a Godzilla-esque, slam-bang action film. In fact, there is really not that much action in this movie at all. Rather, this is a thoughtful, slow-moving and at times somber meditation on humanity and its response to tragedy, filtered through the tropes of the giant monster genre. It may not be for everyone, but I found it utterly engaging, especially since – like I said – it was addressing something that has always slightly bothered me while watching more exciting monster movies.

And don’t get me wrong – there ARE monsters here, and when they do show up, it does pack quite the punch. Edwards wisely keeps his creatures mostly in the shadows or out of focus for much of the movie, which makes it all the better when they finally show up in full force in the film’s moving climax. And the fact that Edwards created all of these FX on a laptop with software you or I could go buy only makes it all the more impressive.

I liked this film a lot. It’s a new and much-welcome twist on an old genre, and proves the “giant monster movie” still has something to say when you have the right guy saying it. For that reason, I’m very excited that Edwards has been chosen to direct the new Godzilla reboot, as his work here suggests a respect and appreciation of the genre that pretty much guarantees he’s better suited for the material than Emmerich. And I can’t wait to see what he can do with some real toys at his disposal.



This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on August 8th, 2011.