The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Monsters – movie magic on a shoestring

with 25 comments

Isn’t it amazing how great movies you can make with the tiniest of budget?

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

Written by Jessica

January 17, 2013 at 12:43 am

Posted in Monsters

25 Responses

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  1. You are right Jessica, we do share similar tastes in film. I really enjoyed this “little” film. It held my attention, had good suspense, even juxtaposed a human “monster” to the real thing, and all on what in Hollywood is a meager budget. The first time I watched this film I thought I would become bored. Not once did my attention wain. Thanks for giving this one a great review. A film like this reminds us that science fiction depends on imagination – that of the filmmaker and that of the audience.
    By the way, you mentioned two of my all time favorite science fiction films: Moon and Cube. Excellent writing, good acting, and a director that knows how to manipulate every angle for ultimate prop value. I have also seen Chronicle and consider it one of the best films of 2010. Thanks.

    Vicki Love

    January 17, 2013 at 4:26 am

    • Thanks Vicki! It’s so lovely to geek out in your company! Have you got any other recommendations of great science fiction films made with a small budget? I might have missed something…


      January 17, 2013 at 10:31 am

      • Jessica, I thought of another low budget science fiction film produced recently that you may not have seen. Another Earth was produced in 2011 for the incredibly cheap budget of $200,000. The story is sad and reflective and very much science fiction, but the plot happens here on our Earth with our own people. I will not give any of the story away, but you may find it interesting. Some of my younger friends found it too slow where I found it intriguing. Its amazing what a little imagination and a few hundred thousand dollars can produce with the right people in the right state of mind.

        Vicki Love

        January 19, 2013 at 7:21 pm

        • I’ve had my eyes on Another Earth ever since I heard of it first. Sadly it never opened in Sweden, to my dismayal. (It might have been screened at some festival). Anyway: I hope I’ll get a across it on DVD somewhere. Maybe I can rent it. I’ll check it out if I can. Got a feeling it’s for me.


          January 20, 2013 at 11:22 pm

  2. I thought this was a nice little movie which displayed a lot of clever decisions in the way of spending what few monies they had.

    I’m not sure I follow your award thoughts though. Why would this category specifically be about “evolution” and not good work period? In the actor categories it is (supposed to be) good acting that is awarded regardless of who does it. Isn’t it natural that the award more often than not goes to established actors with some experience (the “cream”), since they are more likely to perform good acting?


    January 17, 2013 at 8:08 am

    • I think one idea of having this kind of awards is that you want to give a nod to people that have made great performances in different areas, and that this encouragement somehow will contribute to the development of the art of making movies. But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Anyway: the cream analogy is only relevant when it comes to the extremely budget dependent area of special effects. Acting is a different story. You don’t need to be rich to be a good actor.


      January 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

      • No, but you probably need to be rich in order to be sure of having a good actor in your movie…


        January 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm

        • But the award for best actor is given to the actor…


          January 17, 2013 at 6:48 pm

          • I’m still not sure I agree with you, but feel I’m not up to discussing it non-IRL 😉


            January 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

  3. Although I wasn’t a fan of the movie it is impressive what was pulled of with that budget. I remember there was a video on Youtube of the director doing the effects for some TV show where he was telling how he did that. The end result looked great. (just searched for it and you can find it here: Looking forward to see what he’ll do next.


    January 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

    • Thanks for the link! I’m definitely goint to check that out. I love to learn more about how movies are made, especially when they’ve needed to be creative about things.


      January 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

  4. Nice write-up Jessica. Personally, I wasn’t all that keen on this film. It was too lethargic and uneventful for me. That being said, it was undoubtedly well put together and Gareth Edwards deserves the utmost credit. I just didn’t care that much for the characters or their story.

    Mark Walker

    January 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    • I went with it. I loved the small format and the simple little story between the couple. Sure, I’ve seen more interestig love relationship developing on the big screen in my days. But this one had space monsters in it!


      January 17, 2013 at 6:43 pm

  5. Was as impressed with this film as you were, Jessica. But for me, it was more the fact that the film was less of a film about the titular Monsters and more about the two people’s journeys. They were the backdrop. It’s not often that films in this genre do that.

    I thought Looper did the same thing. Used time travel as the backdrop to the real story that was going on.


    January 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    • It’s both I think. The monsters are more than just a gimick. I had to reconsider my view on them. And a lot was left to my imagination: how is mankind going to co-exist with the aliens in the future? But then there’s the personal love story as well. Wonderful combo there.


      January 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

  6. All credit to Gareth Edwards for making this engaging film on such a tiny budget. It puts some of the big blockbuster brash films to shame.


    January 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day ended up with a blockbuster budget in his hands. I hope he’ll make something incredible out of it!


      January 17, 2013 at 6:47 pm

  7. I enjoyed this movie. You’re right, they managed to a lot with a small budget.

    Not showing the monsters is an old trick. Alien does it so well.


    January 18, 2013 at 12:36 am

    • Oh yes. There are many examples. But there’s nothing wrong about using old tricks as long as it works.


      January 20, 2013 at 11:15 pm

  8. I saw this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival a few years ago. The best part, for me, was that Gareth Edwards was there to do a Q&A at the end of the film. It was really interesting to hear how he went about making it. From doing all the special effects on his laptop (and pointing out what was CGI and what wasn’t) to using real (non-actor) people in many of the roles in the film, I found the whole thing fascinating.


    January 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    • Now I’m envious! I would have loved to hear that Q & A. I guess I’ll do some web search here. Sometimes people have put up recordings….


      January 20, 2013 at 11:16 pm

  9. 800 000 dollars, that’s crazy. I saw Monsters at the Stockholm Film Festival two years ago. Liked it. Agree, the effects are really well done. As I understand it Edwards did them on his laptop on his own. Also, I like road movies and I’ve been to Mexico in the same area as they travel in. Here’s my review (in Swedish, but there is a translate button on the blog though):


    January 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    • You saw the director live at the Q & A but went before it was over? Gah. I would have stayed! Nice review, even though I (as often) had a slightly higher grade.


      January 20, 2013 at 11:19 pm

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