Monsters: A Look at an Upcoming Indie Film
By John C.
Last Thursday, an email landed in my inbox alerting me to an upcoming film titled Monsters. Opening in Canada on October 29th – distributed by D Films – it’s an independent sci-fi/horror effort that has already garnered buzz on the festival circuit. But it’s not as much the film that had me interested, as much as it was the director’s story. I normally wouldn’t be writing this far in advance about a film that I’ve yet to see, but writer/director Gareth Edwards’ journey of getting the movie made is one that deserves to be shared.
Director Gareth Edwards’ graduation film was one of the first ever student films to combine live-action and digital effects. Soon after graduation, he made a career for himself creating BAFTA award-winning visual effects ‘entirely from his bedroom.’ He recently directed the epic drama Attila the Hun for the BBC – creating all 250 visual effects on his own – but was still frustrated by the ‘factory approach’ to getting the film made. So he entered Sci-Fi London’s 48 hour film contest, to prove that he could make a short film with no crew and one actor in only 48 hours. The film went on to win first prize.
But it was 10 years after graduating from film school that Gareth Edwards finally made a plan for himself to shoot the movie he always wanted to make. His plan was to shoot the film in everyday situations and locations, and capitalize on his already advanced CGI skills. He came up with the idea for Monsters while on vacation. He was watching a man struggle with his fishing line, and immediately imagined a large tentacle attached on the other end. Then and there, the idea for Monsters was born.
Edwards wrote down his plans for the simplistic approach to getting a film like this made rather than an actual storyline, and pitched it to Vertigo films who ‘loved the idea.’ They spent 3 months working together to come up with a story. The starting point for the plot is that when a space probe launched to collect samples of alien life crashed upon re-entry over Central America, new life forms began to appear and half of Mexico was quarantined as an “infected zone.” Today, the American and Mexican military are still struggling to contain these creatures. But the film’s story starts when a US journalist has to escort an American tourist through the infected zone’s of Mexico and to the US border.
Growing up with the Spielberg classics that we all know and love, Edwards wanted to make a sci-fi movie that was based in reality. And as the story centers on a young couple, he wanted a real life couple for the roles. He approached Scoot McNairy, who gained critical acclaim for his work in In Search of a Midnight Kiss, and his girlfriend Whitney Able. The three of them spent weeks getting to know each other, and for the actors the prospect that this project might be impossible was the most enticing thing.
Edwards was dealing with a small crew, just four people and a fixer, and the team traveled to such locales as Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico, filming in ‘amazing or unusual’ locations as they were discovered. Each scene was put forth with a path from A to B, but the dialogue in between was largely improvised. Aside from the two leads, all the other actors in the film were locals that often didn’t know they would be in a movie until a few minutes prior. The special effects were added in the many months of post-production, as the raw footage was edited down to normal length. One of the biggest challenges for Gareth Edwards was actually the design of what the monsters should look like. He finally settled on a design that was both ‘visually interesting and almost beautiful to look at.’ But as the trailer smartly only gives a brief glimpse at the creatures, the final visual design has yet to be seen.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen such titles as Cloverfield, District 9, and Paranormal Activity. All filmed in the handheld style of a first-person account, and all landing in the genre of sci-fi or horror each film went on to be a big hit. If Monsters can stimulate the mind and keep audiences on the edge of their seat, then this could possibly pull in the same type of audience. Maybe Monsters will just be another indie effort that goes unseen, or maybe it won’t live up to expectations. But the fact that the film was made is a strong testimony to the power of pushing yourself forward and trusting in what you know to get a project off the ground.
The cast and crew of Monsters has not only made a movie, but they have created for themselves a lifetime of memories. From hanging out with local families, to running through the jungle, this is a journey they will never forget. I’ve yet to see the film, so I can’t say if this sense of suspense and reality believably shines through the celluloid, but I deeply admire the dedication of Gareth Edwards and the two leads to just go out and make a movie.
Watch the trailer for Monsters on IMDb, here.