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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

GARETH Edwards’ Monsters is not only one of the best directorial breakthroughs of the year, it’s also hands down one of the best films of the year.

A low budget masterpiece that incredibly boasts big budget trappings as well as cool indie values, it’s a tour de force for all concerned.

Set in the not too distant future, the film imagines a time when Mexico has been sealed off as an ‘infected zone’ after becoming populated by giant extra terrestrial creatures that were inadvertently brought to Earth in the wake of a failed NASA mission.

It follows Kaulder (Scott McNairy), an American photojournalist working in Central America, as he is asked to pick up his boss’ daughter, Sam (Whitney Able) from hospital and ensure she gets back home to America safely.

But after a series of mishaps, the pair are forced to trek through ‘The Infected Zone’ in a journey of self discovery and tentative romance that becomes increasingly frought with peril.

Edwards’ film may play out as a surprise to people expecting a monster movie with all the usual trappings – ie, an over-emphasis on special effects and big action sequences.

But it’s to be applauded for instead placing its two characters to the fore and its creatures very much to the background. In doing so, audiences can come to care about their travel companions, while Edwards cleverly builds a mounting sense of tension.

There are creatures, of course, but such sequences make a mockery of the budget limitations placed upon Edwards. They are incredibly realistic, seamlessly woven into the story and as tense as they are sometimes exhilarating.

But they’re used sparingly, like all the best creature movies (from Alien through to Jaws and even Cloverfield), thereby allowing McNairy and Able to really build a memorable central relationship.

And even in this sense, Edwards doesn’t overplay his hand, keeping the romantic element believable and real. McNairy and Able (who have since married in real life) strike believable sparks off each other but their friendship and subsequent feelings for each other never feels forced or contrived.

Rather, they come to depend on each other, and even like each other, as circumstances bring them ever closer together. It’s a compelling piece of acting from both stars.

Of the set pieces, meanwhile, Edwards slowly builds the feeling of dread with virtuoso monster flashes, sound effects (ironically drawn from real life) and scenes of devastation that his characters have to travel through. It makes the film, by turns, beguiling, enchanting, eerie and – above all – memorable.

Indeed, such is the way that Edwards invests you in proceedings, you may well be disappointed to have to leave them behind!

The ultimate irony, though, is that at a time when mainstream sci-fi is driven by the derivative likes of big budget 3D epics such as Avatar the best and most genuinely creative films in the genre continue to be those with the smallest budgets. Last year, for instance, we had Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Duncan Jones’ Moon.

Gareth Edwards’ Monsters sits comfortably alongside those two gems as another instant classic, while marking him out as one of the hottest new talents on the filmmaking block.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 93mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 11, 2011