One of the things that set JURASSIC PARK apart from other monster movies occurs early in the film, when the characters are introduced to the wonders of the animals that they’re encountering for the first time. Sure, the running/biting elements come to play later on, but it’s this sense of wonder that’s often dropped in films of this nature.
MONSTERS’ great success is how it engages directly with this sense of wonder, with a patient style that allows the protagonists to linger on the remarkable nature of their situation without feeling draggy or forced.
Following a pair as they make their way from central America to the US through a “quarantined” area, the films metaphor of illegal immigration and rising American xenophobia can hardly be called subtle. Still, often the best sci-fi uses this type of rich metaphor as its basis, and MONSTERS joins a very long line (with high pedegree) of such types of works.
Also borrowing from Spielberg’s take on such elements, it’s what you don’t see that’s often more effective in creating mood or suspense. When we’re finally given the payoff, the film does not hesitate to allow us to take the time to fully appreciate the majesty of what we’re experiencing. Other visual flourishes (a memorable sequence with a “shark fin” misdirect, for example) show Edwards to be a supreme visual filmmaker, not surprising given the fact that he also was responsible for the effects himself. What sets MONSTERS apart further is that this is no CGI reel, the performances are never second fiddle to the imagery on screen, the principals effectively inhibiting this world without becoming mere props themselves.
Edwards demonstrates with this low budget flick that shocks and explosions don’t make for a compelling film, but that demonstrations of heart and wonder can elevate even such a straightforward narrative into being something quite special. Expect big things from this talent in the future.