Hurricane Ike as a set designer
Little Texas-tied movies getting Monsters attention
After an extended and exhausting slog through the “Infected Zone” — a humongous swath of Mexico that has been quarantined after squid-like extraterrestrials landed there as stowaways aboard a NASA space probe — two desperate travelers finally reach the enormous wall that has been erected to protect the U.S. border.
Trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be anyone left guarding the open gateway. And as our heroes anxiously walk along the deserted streets of the border town, surveying the spectacularly damaged houses and businesses that have been bombed by United States fighter planes while pursuing the worst sort of illegal aliens, you can’t help notice that they’re moving through a place that looks a lot like… like… well, like Galveston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
Which is precisely where the exhausted protagonists are wandering during the final scenes of Monsters, a small-budget, high-concept sci-fi drama that had a smashingly successful world premiere at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin.
How successful? The British-produced indie was picked up by an enthusiastic U.S. distributor shortly after Austin festival goers roared their approval at a midnight screening.
During a post-screening Q&A, editor Colin Goudie explained that he and writer-director Gareth Edwards filmed most of Monsters guerrilla-style in various locales throughout Guatemala and Mexico, dropping CGI effects into the mix — everything from army tanks and mile-high fences to multi-tentacled behemoths — after the fact.
“But we didn’t really need to create an illusion of mass destruction in Galveston,” Goudie said. “Because it was already there, everywhere, after the hurricane. All we had to do is block out any view of the highway in the background. Otherwise, we got millions of dollars’ worth of production design for next to nothing.”
Monsters was one of several films with Texas connections on view during the 17th-annual SXSW Film Festival. Houston was especially well-represented by two labor-of-love documentaries: Thunder Soul, Mark Landsman’s exuberantly uplifting celebration of Kashmere High School’s legendarily accomplished jazz stage band of the 1970s conducted by the late, great Conrad O. Johnson; and For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair, Bruce Bryant’s affectionate tribute to the improbably enduring folk and acoustic music venue, featuring interviews and/or performances by such luminaries as Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and Guy Clark.
Anderson Fair is scheduled to unspool next month at the WorldFest/Houston and Nashville film festivals.
Austin's film festival just might wind up being remembered best for the premiere of another made-in-Texas indie: Brotherhood, winner of the SXSW’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. Brotherhood was filmed in and around Arlington by first-time feature director Will Canon.
Try to imagine Animal House reconstituted as a hard-edged, beat-the-clock thriller, and you’ll have some idea what to expect from Canon’s ingeniously constructed and propulsively-paced drama, a wide-awake nightmare that achieves the sweaty-palmed intensity of classic film noir while demonstrating just how speedily and inexorably a very bad situation can metastasize into a worst-case scenario after a college fraternity hazing takes a deadly serious turn.
It may be a tad unfair, and more than a little premature, to make any comparisons to another terrific Texas neo-noir indie, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple. But Brotherhood does make it clear that, deep in the heart of Texas, indie cinema is surviving and thriving with a little help from the gatekeepers.