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SYFY WIRE Gareth Edwards

Monsters: The Gareth Edwards Gem You Need to See

If you like the films of Gareth Edwards, then you need to watch the movie that launched his career, Monsters

By Tara Bennett
Samantha Winden (Whitney Able) and Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) walk past wreckage in front of houses in Monsters (2010).

If you're a fan of the sci-fi genre, one of the most interesting directors telling stories in this space in the last decade is Gareth Edwards. He's been given the keys to tell stories in major franchises, including Star Wars (Rogue One) and Godzilla (2014), and most recently his own original story with The Creator. But none of these films would exist without Monsters (now streaming on Peacock!), the handmade indie that Edwards wrote, directed, lit as the cinematographer, production designed, and created the visual effects for, all for less than $500,000.

RELATED: How Gareth Edwards Made Monsters on a Microscopic Budget

The success of his feature directorial debut catapulted him onto the radars of fellow directors like Ridley Scott and Quentin Tarantino, but also convinced Legendary, who acquired the Godzilla license, to let Edwards launch the beginning of their cinematic universe featuring the King of the Monsters. And while he's now worked on massive projects, there are some signature Edwards throughlines that continue to have their roots going back to Monsters

Monsters are a recurring theme in Gareth Edward's films

Giant red squid-like monsters float in the sky as a person watches from below.

As a fledgling filmmaker, Edwards often looked to literal monsters as inspiration for his storytelling. He partially blames it on the first time he saw Star Wars (1977) as a kid, which ignited his fascination with cinematic creatures brought to life with authenticity. As a student at Surrey Institute of Art & Design, monsters featured heavily in his 1996 graduation thesis film. And then in 2008, he won the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge for his sci-fi short, Factory Farmed.

The idea for Monsters was inspired by a mundane observation 

After his 2008 film fest win, Edwards was looking for a next project and he found an idea when he was on holiday. In a 2010 feature in Empire Magazine, Edwards said of the story origin: “I remember being abroad on the beach and watching these guys really struggling to pull a fishing net from the ocean. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but you could tell they were teasing each other about it and I thought it would be funny if, when they finally pulled it out, it had a giant sea creature on the end or something… Yet they were carrying on as if this was part of their everyday life.”

He formalized that into a pitch that he shopped to Vertigo Films, which they green-lit for that modest $500,000. As an accomplished visual effects creator and skilled cameraman, Edwards hired a crew of five — along with actors (and real life couple) Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able — as his whole crew to make Monsters

Gareth Edwards is a gonzo filmmaker at heart

A blone woman follows a man in a blue shirt sticking his thumb out to hail a cab in Monsters (2010)

A connector between Monsters and The Creator is Gareth Edwards' penchant for using digital cameras, which are light and easy to use when it comes to shooting on the fly. With Monsters, he was able to shoot the film in the countries of Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and the United States in the brief span of three weeks because he and his tiny crew shot on the fly without accessing permits. This run-and-gun style of production helped achieve the film's cinéma vérité visual style. 

RELATED: How 'Rogue One' prequel 'Andor' will span 5-year period across two Sarlacc-sized seasons

Edwards returned to that style of shooting for The Creator. As he told SFX Magazine in 2023, "We went to 80 locations. We traveled 10,000 miles. We were at the top of the Himalayas, and on active volcanoes in Indonesia, Nepal. Shot most of the movie in Thailand, then went to Tokyo," he detailed. And for the VFX plates that he needed to create his futuristic AI-filled world, he shot with a minimal crew without permits that he would then overlay with his VFX designs. 

Gareth Edward's penchant for emotion first and spectacle second started with Monsters

A dead body in a red dress appears on the ground in Monsters (2010).

Last but certainly not least, with Monsters, Edwards established his inclination to tell very emotional, character based stories that just happen to be taking place in high concept, sci-fi scenarios. Monsters is about the relationship between Andrew Kaulder and Samantha Wynden, with the monsters informing their overall story. Godzilla is essentially a story about a family that has suffered great loss because of the Kaiju battles, and one father's desire to be reunited with his wife and son. Rogue One is about disparate rebels who become found family in their united fight against the Empire. And The Creator is about a human who becomes a father to an AI daughter.

Despite bigger budgets and an expanded scale of filmmaking, Monsters remains the film that established the template Edwards continues to explore: heartfelt stories set against realistic sci-fi backdrops that bring the wow factor, but are always about the humans who drive the stories.

Watch Monsters now on Peacock.