Monsters – movie magic on a shoestring
It took 800 000 dollars to make Monsters.
To me it sounds like a small but workable amount of money for a small scale drama with two people talking in a room. Well, as long as you stick with lesser known actors.
But Monsters isn’t a low-key talk movie. This is old school science fiction where mankind is fighting creepy giant octopus like creatures from Outer space. And they even show the creatures in picture!
Pulling it off
I’m by no means any expert in the special effects area, but I imagine that it’s a bit like making a good sauce. This is easy enough of you base it on cream – or if you have almost endless resources to rely on. But if you’re forced to manage without the dairy product (someone’s allergic) or if you make a monster film without money, you need to step up your game and be creative in order to make it delicious. And that’s exactly what they’ve done in this case.
The question is how they pulled it off. I still don’t know, since I watched it o VOD and didn’t get access to any of the behind-the-scene material. But I think one of their tricks was a classic: to not allow the audience to spend too much time looking closely at the aliens. With a couple of exceptions, we barely see the creatures. Most of the time they’re somewhere else, out of the picture. But we hear the rustling sound of them as we follow a man and a woman crossing the “infected zone” in Mexico on their way to the safety on the other side of the US border. And we see how they react to the aliens. The less we see of the monsters, the scarier they get.
Awarding special effects
As I mentioned on Twitter the other day, it appears to me as if the special effects category for the Oscars is the one that is most budget depending. The cheapest movie to get a nomination this year had cost somewhere around 120 million dollars. The question is if this is what the award should be about. If the idea is to contribute to the evolution of the art of filmmaking, wouldn’t it be better to give the award to the movie that gave the best show compared to how many bucks that have been spent on it?
If those were the rules, I think Monsters would be a good candidate for the prize, as would other favourite films of mine, such as Moon, Chronicle and Cube. And while we’re at it, can’t we make an award for the most successful jack of all trades? Gareth Edwards isn’t just the director of Monsters. He’s also the writer and the cinematographer of the movie as well as the one in charge of the production design and visual effects. What can you say? He’s a magician.
And films like Monsters make me believe in the future of cinema. Make it small. Make it cheap. Make it excellent.
Monsters (Gareth Edwards, UK 2010) My rating: 4/5