‘Monsters’ arrives Friday with ‘District 9′ aspirations

Oct. 28, 2010 | 11:44 a.m.

My colleague John Horn has been raving about “Monsters,” Gareth Edwards’ low-budget thriller about a young couple forced to travel through some very dangerous territory. Horn says Edwards tried to shoot his film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, on the run, relying as much on improvisation as scripted dialogue.  That approach was informed by the frustration Edwards felt when he had to deal with difficult visual-effects departments on the British television productions “End Day” and “Perfect Disaster.”

“I got so frustrated with the process,” Edwards told Horn. “I have 50 people around me who are supposed to make my life easier, and they’re really making it harder. There has to be an easier way. The whole point of the digital revolution is pointless if you still need so many people following you around.” With just a couple of actors and a sound engineer, Edwards said, “You could be completely opportunistic and move very quickly.”

The result, Horn says, is a movie whose cinéma vérité style may remind you of “Cloverfield” and “District 9” but stands apart on its own and might signal the arrival of a special filmmaking talent. Below is an except for Horn’s latest piece on “Monsters” and Edwards. – Geoff Boucher

gareth edwards Monsters arrives Friday with District 9 aspirations

Gareth Edwards. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Alien attack movies tend to follow a familiar script. There’s an isolated spotting at first, then a few more reports, and before long the whole planet is crawling with otherworldly invaders. The people behind Friday’s “Monsters” hope the same slow-building formula might also work to build the micro-budgeted thriller’s positive buzz.

Premiering in just one theater in New York and one in Los Angeles, “Monsters” is being introduced to moviegoers the way most highbrow art films are released, but with much less advertising. Magnolia Pictures, which is distributing English writer-director Gareth Edwards’ account of a young man and woman trying to navigate through a zone filled with some skyscraper-sized extraterrestrials, is betting that genre enthusiasts will embrace the movie and that their Facebook and Twitter recommendations could help carry “Monsters” into theaters across the nation.

“There’s been a huge amount of interest on the fanboy sites,” says Magnolia’s Eamonn Bowles, adding that the film already is generating strong business through its video-on-demand channels and iTunes, where it premiered Sept. 24. “I think this guy is a big-time filmmaker.” Indeed, Edwards is about to start directing a second feature, with backing from producer Timur Bekmambetov ( “Wanted“).

monsters Monsters arrives Friday with District 9 aspirations

"Monsters." (Magnolia Pictures)

Magnolia acquired “Monsters” soon after it premiered at this spring’s South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival. The documentary-style drama was greeted with generally positive reviews, eliciting some favorable comparisons with the similarly constructed “District 9″ and “Cloverfield.” “Monsters,” which is as much about the romance between the story’s lead couple (Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy) as its squid-like space invaders, subsequently played in about a dozen festivals, several tilted toward genre audiences.

Edwards, 35, won’t say what was spent making the movie, but it’s almost certainly far less than $500,000. Best Buy was so impressed with his bang for the buck that the electronics chain commissioned a video about how Edwards made it.

Because Magnolia rarely spends much money promoting and distributing its films — in its history, only “The World’s Fastest Indian” and “Woman Thou Art Loosed” have grossed more than $5 million in domestic release — the independent company will need great word of mouth and a pile more of good reviews to make box-office news. “Monsters” will be competing this weekend against one new movie and one holdover aimed at an overlapping audience. “Saw 3D,” which Lionsgate promises will be the last in the torture porn franchise, premieres Friday, where it will compete against last weekend’s amazingly successful “Paranormal Activity 2” for the top spot on the sales charts. All three films are rated R.

While those two movies have plenty of scares, Bowles and Edwards believe “Monsters” can be distinguished more for its personal drama than its frightful moments. The film posits that a wide swath along the U.S.- Mexico border has been infected with oversized aliens, the byproduct of a space mission gone quite wrong. McNairy plays a photographer named Andrew who reluctantly must accompany his boss’ daughter, Sam (Able), through this very dangerous region…

THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST

–  John Horn

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