One of my favorite films from this year's SXSW was Monsters, the directorial debut of a resourceful British independent filmmaker by the name of Gareth Edwards. Because Monsters is a low budget movie set in Earth's near future about aliens that live in a quarantined zone in a third world country, it is only inevitable that people make the comparison between Edwards' film and Neill Blomkamp's District 9. A coy marketing campaign on the part of Magnet Releasing, who are distributing the film in the United States, that keeps the titular non-humans out of the spotlight isn't helping anything, either.
So the question is, is Monsters indeed this year's District 9?
Yes...and no. On the no front, aside from a few elements that are vaguely overlapping - the third world setting, the use of street signs warning about the long-established quarantine zone, a small cast comprised of people you probably haven't heard of - the two are completely different films. Unfortunately, that may prove to be a problem for Monsters.
Given the film's title and the marketing, which emphasizes the scale of the quarantine zone and how destructive the unseen beasts can be over the actual plot of a man escorting his bosses daughter through the dangerous zone, I think a lot of audiences are going to be expecting something along the lines of D9. I can hardly blame those expectations. If I hadn't been fortunate enough to catch the film's world premiere at SXSW, if all I had to go on was the marketing, I too would be expecting a more Hollywood-style alien invasion movie. That's not what Monsters is, though. From my review over at Sci-Fi Squad:
So, no, the two are not alike in terms of end goal. Blomkamp's film is a sci-fi actioner, Edwards' film is a sci-fi romance. If anything, Monsters is best summarized as District 9 meets Before Sunrise. That said, there is still another half to the answer.Those expecting a non-stop effects extravaganza should temper their hopes right now; Monsters is not the film they're looking for. Gareth Edwards certainly has no apprehensions about showing off his behemoths, but this is not their movie. This is Andrew and Sam's movie and that is precisely what makes Monsters so unique. It's not about blowing your mind with action, it's about creating an all-encompassing universe in which this subtle and soft story can exist.
One of the reasons critics and fans alike loved District 9 is because it was different and original and looked like it was made on a budget 10x times the amount of what actually went into the movie. In the production department, Monsters is without question this year's District 9. The entire movie was made on a microbudget with a crew of two people (yes, two people!) and filmed completely on location. In fact, it's even more removed from the studio system because Edwards did everything by himself.
All of the special effects were created by him at home using nothing but off-the-shelf software and equipment that you or I could easily get a hold of. If he didn't know how to do a particular effect, he looked it up online and figured out how to do it. You'd never be able to tell that from the film, though. The effects aren't just stunning, however, they're also prolific. The tanks? The signs warning about the aliens? The explosions? Edwards added them all in post production, but they're often so subtle that many of them won't even register as special effects at all-- and that's one of the greatest compliments you can ever pay a sci-fi film.
"This year's District 9" or not, Monsters is still a must see movie. I'm sure a good deal of people have been anticipating it thanks to all the festival buzz, but I'm also sure that it's not on most people's radar. If you're in the former group, then I'm yet another person confirming that it's as special a film as everyone else has been saying. If you're in the latter camp, however, I kind of envy you. I'd love to see the movie without knowing anything about it all over again.
Having said that, I'm actually not sure what has me more excited to see Monsters again, the above trailer or the below (spoiler free) making-of clip: