Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture. We tend to think of monster movies as the classic Universal horror films we talked about last week. But, the 21st century has had its fair share of cinematic monsters as well.
The creature features today may have more CGI, but they're no less scary or relevant: They are as reflective of their time as Dracula and the crew were back in the day. Oh, and we're focusing specifically on monsters here: no aliens allowed. (Sorry, Attack the Block.)
Before Gareth Edwards directed Rogue One, he tackled another franchise — one that was even older and arguably more iconic. Sixty years after the first Godzilla, we were gifted with a retelling of that terrible lizard's origin story. Size matters as Edwards constantly highlights how puny mere mortals are in the face of Godzilla's lumbering wrath.
This is a movie with an impressive international cast — including a slew of Oscar-nominated and winning actors such as Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, and Bryan Cranston — but the sheer power, brute force and beauty of the monster dwarf them all. And, of course, it gave us one of the most valuable GIFs of recent years.
The Descent (2005)
Director Neil Marshall has had his stumbles of late (Centurion, the new Hellboy), but he accrued significant goodwill with this nerve-shredding thriller, which concerns a group of friends who end up going spelunking in the worst possible cave.
The Descent feels like a modern Alien, and its use of an all-female cast, which seemed novel at the time, now just seems like a precursor to Hollywood films like Annihilation and Widows. No matter which ending you saw, this movie and its cannibalistic critters got under your skin. Has anyone been brave enough to enter a low-lit cave since this horrifying film?
King Kong (2005)
Some of the best parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy are when the narrative drops away for a second and we just get a good old-fashioned monster movie, when the film feels a little like the hellzapoppin' Dead Alive from early in Peter Jackson's career.
His King Kong remake has the same sense of awe and madness, particularly when our heroes (such as they are) are fighting in that spider pit: it's both old-timey and cutting-edge. And there's, of course, the ape himself, never looking so… human. It remains amazing that Jackson made this his Lord of the Rings follow-up, and even more so that he pulled it off.
Yes, in the later Cloverfield movies there was an indication that the Cloverfield monster was an alien. But we prefer the original explanation: he came from the sea. Cloverfield is a true old-time monster movie, with a big Godzilla-type figure attacking the city and millions of piddling humans screaming and running in his wake. The handheld cameras may be a distraction, though it does provide a sense of reality to the proceedings as our world gets torn apart.
The Host (2006)
Sorry, not that movie called The Host: we're talking about the one from South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, which combines pro-environment commentary, family dysfunction, and creature-feature scares into one strange, beguiling package.
Loosely inspired by an ecological disaster that occurred in the Han River, the film is Bong at his best, switching between genres and wildly oscillating between disparate emotional tones. You'll laugh, you'll be moved, and you'll definitely be scared during The Host, which features some incredible monster effects for a film with a relatively low budget compared to Hollywood blockbusters. Other monster movies this century remade past greats. The Host came up with its own fantastic new beast.