With the advent of digital technology movies can now be made relatively cheap. You don’t need to raise the money to buy and develop film, nor do you need the time to wait for the film to return from the developer for color correction. Now you can shoot with a digital video camera and edit the footage on a laptop. At some point I imagine a movie will be released in theaters whose gimmick is that it was shot exclusively on a cell phone.
This democratization of filmmaking has had uneven results. Paranormal Activity was a ninety minute You Tube clip that made the viewer in front of me vomit due to motion sickness from the shaky camera work. But Monsters, a new science fiction movie makes the most with its limited budget. In fact it probably lays the claim for having the best special effects of any movie budgeted for under a million dollars.
Monsters takes place in the near future. Giant, hundred foot tentacled monsters from outer space have invaded Mexico. Under this backdrop, a photographer, who can make big bucks by snapping photos of the aliens, instead has to escort his employer’s hot daughter from the dangers of these monsters back to the safety of America.
Monsters tries to inject social satire into the movie (a wall is built at the US/Mexican border to keep the aliens out), but not as cleverly as District 9 did last year. What is clever is the way they created such cool looking monsters and set pieces with such miniscule resources.
Monsters follows the Jaws example of stretching the patience of the audience until the breaking point before showing the monster in its entirety. While the reason Spielberg did this in Jaws was because he thought the shark didn’t look real, the effect was the images audiences created in their minds made the shark more terrifying than the fx wizards of the seventies could hope to deliver. Using this tactic in Monsters without a tight plot makes it seem as though the writer/director Gareth Edwards is stalling the movie as long as he can until it reaches its requisite length of ninety minutes. But when those monsters do show up, they do more than scare you, they inspire you to consider the possibility that you might soon be able to incorporate realistic flying reindeer in your family’s Christmas video.