Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
Last weekend saw the release of “Rampage,” which may be the highest-rated video game movie on Rotten Tomatoes, but probably won’t go down in history as the king of monster movies.
This week’s question: What monster movie should people watch instead of “Rampage?”
Matt Zoller Seitz (@MattZollerSeitz), RogerEbert.com
The 2014 “Godzilla,” directed by Gareth Edwards. Try to watch it on the biggest screen you can find, in a dark room. It’s the most aesthetically daring monster movie, and one of the most daring big budget SF films, released in the last decade, owing as much to “Close Encounters” as it does to anything Toho made. I was shocked by how much money it made. It was basically a Terrence Malick Godzilla movie, right down to the cutaways to other animals in the ecosystem and that final shot, which was reminiscent of “The Thin Red Line.”
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
I will go to my grave defending (and being mocked for defending) Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla,” a peerlessly graceful monster movie about humanity’s ultimate insignificance. Call it “post-human,” call it prescient, call it whatever the hell you want, but it only gets getter as the Americanization of the genre gets worse.
Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Freelance for Harper’s Bazaar, IGN, /Film
“Jurassic Park.” One of the many things that’s so great about this movie is that it introduces these gargantuan creatures as empathetic beings that should be protected. And because of the compassion Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) has for them, how she marvels at their mere existence, we come to see these otherwise frightening dinosaurs through her sensitive lens. But as the movie progresses, some begin to retaliate and embody the very traits that terrified us in the first place. It is one of the precious moments in film when the giant monster actually gets a really interesting arc that is as conflicting as it is horrifying.
Stephen Whitty (@StephenWhitty), Freelance
The first thoughts that came to mind were Joon-ho Bong’s “The Host” and “Okja,” but I suspect they’re the same titles a lot of people are thinking of right now. (And if not, why not?) So I’ll go a little further afield and suggest fans of big monsters — particularly the city-stomping kaiju variety — check out the original, non-export cut of “Godzilla” from 1954. Still called “Gojira” then (and definitely not featuring cutaways to a curious Raymond Burr) it’s surprisingly serious, and a strong metaphor for the horrors of invasion, Hiroshima and the arms race. The always invaluable Rialto Pictures re-released a restoration, with English subtitles, theatrically in 2004 and 2014; it’s available on disc from Criterion as well.
Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf), Time Out New York
Can’t pass up an opportunity to hype for my beloved “The Mist” with its downbeat ending—the darkest Hollywood ever pushed on an audience. (Seriously: Stephen King read Frank Darabont’s revised ending to his original novella and called it “such a jolt—wham! It’s frightening.”) Yes, you’ve got giant monsters: huge scuttling spiders with razor-wire webs, vicious scorpion thingies, praying mantises. It’s awful. And yet, Marcia Gay Harden might be the scariest of them all. On the plus side, you’ve got Toby Jones, Action Hero.
Rafael Motamayor (@GeekWithAnAfro), Flickering Myth
A gorilla fighting a giant crocodile and a flying wolf isn’t enough for you? How about a mature film about addiction and toxic friends that also features giant monsters? Nacho Vigalondo plays with the kaiju-genre in “Colossal” and delivers a genre-mashup that has a lot to say about alcoholism, self-destructive behaviour and empathy, while also featuring a monster and a robot destroying Seoul, South Korea. Plus, Anne Hathaway shot drunken fight scenes while pregnant, can The Rock do the same?
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko), Pajiba/Riot Material
“Colossal.” Nacho Vigalondo’s amazing monster movie got a lot of buzz out the festival circuit for being the “Anne Hathaway / kaiju” movie. Then somehow, after its release, the talk of it died off with a whimper. In it, a giant, mysterious beast appears in Seoul, bringing senseless destruction to the city. Then a reckless drunk (Hathaway) half-way around the world realizes how this creature connects to her. The monster becomes a metaphor for the consequences of our actions made through selfishness in various forms. First, it’s tied to the heroine’s alcoholism. Then in a fascinating second-act, it smoothly shifts focus, revealing the true monster of the movie, and a clever exploration of gender politics.
I don’t want to say more, because the surprises of the film are one of its richest assets, among many including sharply funny performances from Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, and Tim Blake Nelson. But this is an absolutely fantastic, imaginative, and hilarious movie that deserved more attention.
It’s now on Hulu. So, check it out yourself to see why it was my favorite film of 2017.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
Movie monsters have gotten worse as they’ve gotten fancier; the cheesy splendors of the spate of low-budget nineteen-fifties monster-apocalypses are in keeping with the pulp-loopiness of the plots. The ease of destruction by means of CGI ramps up the stakes for overwhelming yet seamlessly plausible effects while, at the same time, the naturalistic earnestness with which movies of mass destruction are both received and made strips out even the hectic and operatic glories of earlier threadbare catastrophes. But the most perceptively ironic and inventively gleeful of recent monster rampages is Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal,” starring Anne Hathaway, in which the very subject is the monstrosity implicit in daily life (and which also builds the discovery of effects and the power of image-transmission into the story).
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today
I hate to be boring and traditional, but sticking strictly to the genre of giant world-destroying monsters, I’d have to go with both “King Kong” (Merian Cooper, 1933) and “Godzilla” (Ishirô Honda, 1954), both of which were extremely influential for their respective eras, and remain both artistically engaging and narratively entertaining to this day. The former was a pioneer in the craft and technology of stop-motion animation, with lead animator Willis O’Brien leading the way in the aesthetics of creature combat. I highly recommend finding the 2005 “RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World” (available on the 2005 DVD and Blu-ray re-release of the original “King Kong”), which features, among other things, director Peter Jackson and his team, as research for their own 2005 “King Kong,” recreating a lost sequence from the first movie. Watching them work with O’Brien’s techniques offers a wonderful lesson in why the 1933 film remains such a touchstone.
As for more modern films, I’d go with “The Host” (Bong Joon-ho, 2006), “Cloverfield” (Matt Reeves, 2008), and “Monsters” (Gareth Edwards, 2010). The last one, especially – far superior to the same director’s inert 2014 “Godzilla” – is a terrific example of innovative low-budget filmmaking. Traveling through Central America with a tiny crew, Edwards prioritized story and careful capture of location sound to later emphasize character and space, supplemented by his own brilliant use of post-production effects. The last sequence of two enormous alien monsters gently dancing against a nighttime sky as actor Scoot McNairy watches, mesmerized, is a thing of great cinematic beauty.
Carlos Aguilar (@Carlos_Film), Freelance
Concealing their sharp fangs and murderous appetite, the two mermaids in Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s mesmerizing horror musical “The Lure” are monsters with complex desires, but still driven by gruesome, man-eating motivations. Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszańska) are not stomping on cities when their reach Polish shores in the 1980s, but instead gain the trust of their potential victims, many of whom want to exploit them as novelties, before deciding whether to feed on them or not. Smoczyńska subverted the Hans Christian Andersen approach to the mythological figure of the mermaid, and looked back to the ancient and much more monstrous tales of sirens who would prey on gullible men through songs. It’s only fitting that songs are also integral part of this utterly unique exploration of a creature whose dangerous qualities had been cleaned up by Disney in the collective consciousness. Also, the director went to great lengths to use practical effects -particularly for the massive mermaid tails the protagonists wear on screen -like many monster-loving directors before her have done.