Monsters and Godzilla | The creature movies of Gareth Edwards

Share this Article:

Gareth Edwards is back on the big screen with The Creator, but it was a pair of monster movies – Monsters and Godzilla – that first brought him to prominence.

Spoilers lie ahead for 2010’s Monsters.

Gareth Edwards always wanted to make a monster movie. In the mid-1990s, the opportunity arrived.

A short film set in a suburban environment, Edwards had designs, while still a student at university, of transforming it into a much bigger debut, a revival of the ‘monster movie’ tradition. Roughly a decade later, Steven Spielberg released War Of The Worlds and soon after came Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield. Edwards knew his modus operandi would need to change. His intention to make a ‘kitchen sink’, low budget, found footage picture, in the vein of The Blair Witch Project, was no longer an innovative proposition. A new tactic would be necessary.

Monsters, his 2010 feature film debut, ends up something of an ironic title. Set partly in Mexico and a borderland of the United States transformed into an ‘infected zone’, it posits a world in which NASA made alien contact and after their probe crashes on the American continent, from it emerges extra-terrestrial life-forms who begin to spread and colonise the territory, as US and Mexican forces work to contain the ‘threat’.

Edwards enters this story via Kaulder (Scott McNairy), a fairly self-centred photojournalist, tasked to escort Sam (Whitney Able), the daughter of his publisher, safely from Mexico back to the US, which sees them for various reasons having to navigate the ‘infected zone’.

Though the film at the very beginning shares clear DNA with Cloverfield, watching soldiers try and take down a seemingly Lovecraftian giant alien gribbly in grainy footage, Edwards very quickly pivots away to a much more personal way of exploring the ‘monsters’ of the title. Monsters ends up being a rather intimate, at points elegiac love story nestled at the core of a transformative moment for mankind. It doesn’t have the destructive, seat of your pants rush of Cloverfield or the cold cynicism of District 9, released around the same time by South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, depicting a dehumanised approach to alien contact. Monsters finds beauty in the unknown.

He described the process of getting to the way in to Empire:

What if someone made a monster movie set years after most other monster movies end? When people aren’t running and screaming, but life is just going on. It would be really cheap to film, as you wouldn’t need background extras – you could just film real people, and the fact that they weren’t reacting to these crazy things would just add to the realism of it all. Suddenly I felt like I had my monster movie!

Traditionally, this wasn’t the accepted approach for a film about monsters ravaging the landscape or rising from the deep. Ever since 1933’s King Kong transformed him into a cultural icon, monsters very swiftly became allegory for very human anxieties. The wave of 1950s monster pictures in Hollywood – be it Creature From The Black Lagoon or It Came From Beneath The Sea – served often to express nuclear-age paranoia, before 1975’s Jaws – from the aforementioned Spielberg – let loose a deadly shark on an innocent population and turned the mundane, a swim at the beach, into a voyage of terror. His dinosaurs, later in 1993’s Jurassic Park, become expressions of humankind’s hubris biting – literally – back.

Monsters, therefore, are often in cinema creatures who have been persecuted or exist as expressions of our own fears or, in many cases, our belief we can control nature. Edwards with Monsters immediately works to undercut this notion. His ‘monsters’ are anything but. He presents them, in most cases, as benign alien beings who have simply adapted to their new human environment. The climax sees Sam hiding from what in other pictures might be an alien attack, but Edwards instead has his creatures soak up light and energy from a television screen before engaging in a mating ritual, heading off together. They mirror the courtship between Kaulder and Sam, which ripples across the film.

In the same manner that Reeves was interested, through Cloverfield, in exploring the post-9/11 landscape in America, depicting the ‘attack’ of an alien creature on New York City replete with iconic buildings being torn to pieces, so too is Monsters fascinated by the impression of America with almost a decade’s distance from such trauma. Kaulder says at one point: “Y’know… it’s different looking at America from the outside… in. Y’know just sitting right outside, and looking in.”

He speaks literally but Edwards’ script means figuratively. His story moves from a Mexico filled with immigrants willing to cross the infected border to reach the promised land to the shattered fringes of an America that feels little different on the ground.


Kaulder in that sense represents the capitalist heart of American society. He just wants the story, less interested in the cost. He doesn’t go to war-torn zones, or the infected areas, to depict truth, he just wants the prestige, and doesn’t see the moral complexity at first: “Let me ask you something… do you know how much money your father’s company pays for a picture of a child killed by a creature? $50,000. Do you know how much money I get paid for a picture of a happy child? Nothing. Do you know where that puts me? Photographing tragedy.”

His experience with Sam changes him. She is a rich man’s daughter trying to escape a loveless potential marriage, attracted to Kaulder’s sense of freedom, but who equally helps teach him the meaning and importance of connection. It becomes an escape for them both, summed up by Sam’s final line of the film: “I don’t want to go home.”

They kiss, soldiers move them apart to evacuate them, and canonically the opening battle plays out. Edwards’ point is clear – maybe America is the many-tentacled monster, a behemoth that would try and kill the ‘alien’ outside their world rather than understand and live alongside them. It remains a potent metaphor.

60 years on from the original Ishirō Honda 1954 Japanese monster feature, Edwards followed up Monsters with the second Hollywood adaptation of Godzilla, the most famous ‘kaiju’ in cinema history. Over decades, ‘Gojira’ entertained audiences across the world thanks to Toho Studios, even when the series took wild and wacky turns. After the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin version in 1998, a slice of cheesy but empty American spectacle that failed to capitalise on their Independence Day success, Edwards shoots for a middle ground with his take, halfway between Honda’s initial allegorical reverence and the Spielbergian wonder he grew up adoring – specifically Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

He discusses the misconceptions with Screen Rant:

People think of Godzilla and think of child-friendly versions. It’s funny because people look at the ‘60s films, they’re a bit B-movies and people can say, what if you made it serious like the Batman series became? And if you look at the original, they did that already. They beat us to it by 60 years, it’s really serious and somber and very harrowing. Apart from the fact there’s a giant monster, I challenge you to show me a film – like a popcorn movie – where they show a child and they hold a Geiger counter and it clicks as if the child is going to die of radiation sickness and the shot moves on. I have not seen that in films of real dramatic weight, let alone a monster movie. I can’t think of a more serious monster movie.

Edwards chooses to take Godzilla seriously, to give the legendary creature the scope and scale he deserves. He makes us wait almost an hour before we glimpse Gojira in his complete majesty, and on IMAX this experience was quite remarkable, capturing the vast grandeur of a creature able to squash a passenger plane underfoot, such is his size. His use of György Ligeti’s sonorous, cosmic choir, best heard previously on screen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the elite squad including Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s protagonist Ford HALO jump into a storm-ridden cityscape, is nothing short of breathtaking on a big screen.

There is a reason the brilliant teaser trailer front-loads itself with this sequence, presenting audiences with the arresting imagery of human forces plunged into a nightmarish, almost post-apocalyptic visage where giant monsters do battle. It does indeed recall Spielberg’s approach to War of the Worlds, with Edwards working hard to dial down the appearances by Godzilla or the giant, parasitic kaiju creatures born inside nuclear power who hatch, forcing Godzilla to the surface to combat them. He understands, as he did with Monsters, that the human element is how you tackle such enormous allegorical constructs.

No disrespect to perfectly serviceable sequels such as Godzilla: King Of The Monsters or Godzilla vs Kong, but they simply become giant budget versions of monster smack downs. Edwards’ Godzilla works to present the creature as a representation of Nature, as the original Honda film saw him as the ultimate expression of nuclear fallout and the consequences of testing the atomic bomb. Ken Watanabe’s scientist, Serizawa, describes him as the ultimate alpha predator, top of the food chain, and Edwards is keen to try and remind us how small we are as humans in the face of such power. “The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around.”

If Monsters saw beauty in the alien, Godzilla sees Edwards display a healthy respect for Nature and balance, with humans as little more than passive observers. Perhaps this is why many of the characters in Godzilla, even those played by skilled thespians such as Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche or Sally Hawkins, make little impact, certainly compared to McNairy and Able in Edwards’ previous film. Humanity becomes almost incidental by the finish in the face of Godzilla’s power, his destructive restoration of balance. In that sense, he too evokes the American anxiety of an unknowable force beyond their control wreaking havoc on a populated city. Man of Steel, albeit in a different context, presents a similar idea that same year.

Come the climax of these films, Edwards’ ‘monsters’ are revealed as anything but. They are to be both respected and understood, communicated with, not feared or destroyed. Gojira becomes our saviour, last seen sailing back to the seas he has been relentlessly tracked over years and even bombed with atomic weapons, as Godzilla reveals. We are the monsters, as humans often are, unable to check our flawed, paranoid, feeling selves. Gareth Edwards’ love of the monster movie shows us that, in both of these pictures.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

Related Stories

More like this