Blu-ray Review: MONSTERS - Low Budget, High Standards

After the huge worldwide success of the tiny, low budget sci-fi thriller that is new kid Gareth Edwards€™ hot ticket to Hollywood, Monsters gets a much anticipated release on Blu-Ray for all those who didn€™t get the chance to see it on the big screen. And while many may have had concerns about how this tiny production that was shot primarily with a crew of under 10, a principal cast of 2, and Edwards acting as director, cinematographer, cameraman and caterer for a budget of under $500, 000 (including post production) would transfer to high definition, their concerns have proven to be unwarranted, as Monsters is one of the best examples of how Blu-Ray can enhance a movie€™s qualities. Set in the not so distant future where a probe containing alien specimens from Europa €“ one of Jupiter€™s moons €“ crash landed around the Gulf of Mexico and now six years on have grown into giant, octopus creatures that roam free wreaking havoc, the film follows Andrew (Scoot McNairy) a cynical photographer who unwillingly undertakes the task of transporting his boss€™ rebellious daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) back to America. The safe way €“ and the extortionately expensive way is by boat, off and around the coast. The certain-of-death way is by land, through the €˜infected zone€™. It€™s an easy, albeit expensive option; however, when their passports are stolen they have just one option €“ go through the infected zone. The monsters are present. Quite present indeed from the beginning and they are terrifying. However, it is the character relationship and the romantic bond that forms between the central leads, which makes this such a compelling and enduring viewing experience, which in my view, is the most memorable quality of Jaws. We care about Quint, Brody and Hooper; we fear for their lives and will them on against The Great White. This is the essential element of a monster movie, and this is exactly what Edwards achieves with Monsters. The plot is simple; the couple has the inevitable close encounters with the alien creatures with close calls and moments of tension strung out with great suspense. The CGI is sometimes obvious, but flawless when needed to be, most notably with the real close encounter in the final act. There are some overly trite lines of dialogue, but these are few in a film that shows just what can be achieved with a minimal budget if you have a well-structured script, subtle direction, authentic locations (all shot on location in Mexico, often without permission) superb cinematography and most importantly two fully developed, deep and very human characters, perfectly captured and conveyed by two very promising young actors. Scoot McNairy€™s performance is just as genuine in his other star turn in €˜In Search of a Midnight Kiss€™ another role where he shared ninety minutes of screen time opposite a female lead. Equally good is Whitney Able, who manages to be sexy and alluring without the luxuries of costume changes and make-up, while putting in a strong, complex and emotionally deep performance. Credit for their performances must of course go to Edwards who having identified them as his leads, vested the trust in them to improvise lines and develop characters on location from his outline of a script. Monsters is a master class in quality over quantity and shows what can be done with limited means and bundles of talent, industry and determination.

QUALITY

Whilst remaining true to its low budget, gritty, shaky camera look, the Blu-Ray transfer makes it look like something that was produced for ten times its budget. The wide visuals of Mexico really jump off the screen thanks to the 1080p. The picture is crisp, and any little imperfections that were noticeable on the big screen €“ the suspect tank, the airplane in the lake €“ now seem fully legitimate. The sound is even more impressive and fully embraces the potential of the 7.1 transfer of Blu-Ray. The thunder of the tanks, the screeches of the monsters, the gunshots, and even the little minute details of birds squawking and twigs snapping have great clarity. This is an example of a low budget movie really embracing the potential of all facets of Blu-Ray to make itself look like something Hollywood chose to make look like a grassroots movie rather than it actually being that.

EXTRAS

Quality very much over quantity here. While some Blu-rays have mountains of tiny portions €“ trailers, out-takes, gags, TV spots, this Blu-Ray contains two real gems that will leave anyone who is a fan of €˜Monsters€™ or low budget filmmaking very happy. The commentary is one of the best I have ever heard. Recently I commented on Lisa Cholodenko€™s commentary on €˜The Kids are All Right€™ and praised it for the detail she went into about all areas of the story, project and production and the passion she exuded; the same can very much be said of the commentary track for Monsters. Edwards sounds like a kid who has got his candy as he gushes over the whole experience. Accompanied by the stars, McNairy and Able, this is a deeply personal, revealing and interesting commentary that not just reveals much about making a film low budged but shows the closeness of the relationship that formed between the director and his stars. The best feature is the €˜making of documentary€™ which lasts for over an hour and takes you from the pre-production right through to Edwards putting the finishing touches to the special effects in the editing suite. This is the story behind the story; a filmmaker€™s unflappable passion for his calling captured on screen and a great inspiration and €˜how to/ how not to€™ for all aspiring filmmakers. Monsters is out now on Blu-ray.
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!