Remarkable monstrosities: giant monster movies with singular stories

As Kong and Godzilla continue to dominate, check out these unique takes on the giant monster genre
Troll Hunter - Courtesy Magnolia Pictures
Troll Hunter - Courtesy Magnolia Pictures /

Giant monsters are huge right now. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is still king at the box office weeks after its release with further plans for more movies and a second season of the Apple+ series Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters in the works.

While the major release films focus on huge creatures slamming into each other, some independent and international filmmakers have taken the tropes of the genre, and advances in computer generated effects to craft compelling creature features that need more attention.

Troll Hunter (2010)

Around the same time that CGI helped bring a different kind of monster to the big screen, found footage provided a unique way to tell those stories. Mix the two together and you have something similar to the bigfoot phenomena of the 1970s or the more modern liminal space videos. Capturing something huge in the corner of a small screen plays nicely on the familiar fear of glancing something spooky out of the corner of your eye. And, video footage always at least tickles the part of your brain that wonders, "Is it real?"

This synthesis worked well in Cloverfield, a major U.S. hit in 2008 and again in the 2010 Norwegian film Troll Hunter in which a group of college students looked into an unlicensed bear poacher found that he harbored a secret he felt like getting off his chest. Their target, a man known as Hans (Otto Jespersen), introduced these kids -- Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck and Tomas Alf Larsen -- to the reality that their world is inhabited by all manner of trolls who live in the wilds of their homeland. Hans further explained that he worked for a government sanctioned group intent on hunting them down and disposing of the evidence, pinning any destruction on bears and other natural phenomena.

Writer-director Andre Ovredal went on to make some more pretty impressive films like The Autopsy Of Jane Doe and The Last Voyage Of The Demeter. You can see the roots of his visual stylings in this film which takes great advantage of Norway's landscape and mythology to craft a believable story about hidden monsters who sometimes explode and sometimes turn to stone when attacked!

Monsters (2011)

Monsters - Courtesy Magnolia Pictures /

Before kickstarting the MonsterVerse in 2014 with Godzilla, Gareth Edwards cut his teeth on giant creatures with the low-budget film Monsters. Shot with a small crew and two main stars, this film is set in a world where alien life samples crashed to Earth resulting in tentacled lifeforms running rampant. Interestingly, similar starting points were used in the Dwayne Johnson vehicle Rampage as well as another film on this list.

In Monsters, leads Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able make their way from Mexico through the quarantine zone and into the United States, dealing with sketchy coyotes, government agents and the occasional monster attack. While the movie certainly lives in a kaiju-infested world and knows the traditions and tropes of the genre, it does not always lean into them which is a nice change of pace.

Monsters is definitely a slow burn film, much of which was improvised, that took advantage of existing locations to bring the story to life along with creative CGI usage. Though not found footage, the picture has that ground-eye-view perspective that makes the proceedings feel small and personal even when dealing with huge issues and threats. After watching Monsters, it will make total sense the direction Edwards went with Godzilla, which stands as the most down-to-earth of the MonsterVerse offerings.

Grabbers (2012)

It's very cool to see so many grounded takes on massive monsters, but sometimes we need some fun in there as well and that's what Jon Wright delivered with Grabbers. In this 2012 film, the small Irish island town finds itself the home of new squid-like lifeforms that love water and killing people, but hate the taste of their blood if they've had too much to drink.

So, the few townspeople who know what's going on -- including an alcoholic cop played by Richard Coyle and a by-the-book visiting officer portrayed by Ruth Bradley -- have only one plan as a rainstorm hits that night: throw a raging party at the local pub with an open bar! What you get is a party atmosphere where almost everyone's having a good time because they have no idea what lurks outside. Plus, depending on your perspective, there can be a certain charm in watching the inebriated deal with monsters instead of the more usual sober parties.

Grabbers turns out to be a mix of giant monsters and mini monsters as the creatures grow. In fact, it has an unexpected Gremlins vibe without feeling like a copy. Also, like that film, it also works so well because you can't help but like these very ordinary characters dealing with this mad situation.

Colossal (2017)

Nacho Vigalando has an incredible talent for taking well-known subgenres, mixing them together and adding his own unique spin to them. His slasher Timecrimes is held up as one of the best time travel horror films around and his Blumhouse/Hulu Into The Dark installment Pooka will change how you look at Christmas and the commercialism surrounding it.

Many fans strapped themselves in for a wild ride when the writer-director's 2016 film Colossal came out, with even more people queued up because of stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. Through Vigalando's distinctive lens, he presented a giant monster movie unlike any other in which Hathaway's Gloria realizes that her actions in a hometown park mysteriously coincide with the appearance of a kaiju threatening Seoul, South Korea.

You could cut out all of the creature content and this would be a compelling drama about a woman returning to her home town and trying to put her life back together while navigating people from her past. But with the huge monster stuff and the way that small human interactions and confrontations are then giganticized on the other side of the world, you get a wonderful film that expertly utilizes kaiju tropes without ever making them cartoonish.

A Monster Calls (2016) & I Kill Giants (2017)

Dealing with trauma can be overwhelming, especially for kids. When a person's world is turned upside down by loss, sickness or other sad events, coping can feel like an insurmountable task, not unlike facing off against an imposing physical threat. That very idea has been covered in more than a few movies recently including A Monster Calls.

In that J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) film, which was adapted for the screen by the source book's writer Patrick Ness, a benevolent giant voiced by Liam Neeson helps teen Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) deal with his mother's illness by telling him stories. A very emotional journey, this one casts the larger creatures among us as protectors instead of threats.

I Kill Giants takes a similar approach, but with more action worked in. Based on an Image Comics series of the same name by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura, the film follows Barbara (Madison Wolfe), a teen who believes that she is the key to keeping her small town safe from the threat of hidden giants. As you might imagine, such thoughts make her an outsider at school and at home, though she does make a friend in newcomer Sophia (Sydney Wade).

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Imogen Poots (Green Room, Black Christmas) as Barbara's older sister and guardian, Jennifer Ehle (Dead Ringers) as their mother, Zoe Saldana (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Star Trek) as the school psychologist and even Doctor Who alum Noel Clarke. Together they cook up an emotional slow burn that keeps you wondering whether Barbara is really dealing with titans, using the idea of them to keep her busy, or maybe both.

Love And Monsters (2020)

In an alternate reality, Love And Monsters could have made the list of blockbuster big monster movies. It stars Teen Wolf's Dylan O'Brien in a world where humanity launched rockets at an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. They succeeded in ending that threat, but also introduced chemicals into the atmosphere that fell to the planet and made every cold-blooded creature grow to huge size. Here's more of that falling chemical stuff changing the planet idea which does have a ring of the classic "science causing creatures" convention so prominent in '50s flicks.

After seven years living in a bunker, O'Brien's Joel leaves to find his love Aimee (Jessica Henwick). Along the way he befriends a dog named Boy, fellow survivors played by Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, The Walking Dead) and Ariana Greenblatt (Barbie, 65) and a whole lot of amphibians and bugs who want to eat them. Again, this nicely nods back to the creature features of the 1950s while expanding the idea and making them look awesome through modern technology, though the effects in those classics do have their charm.

Love And Monsters is an exciting, funny adventure that still knows how to hi the right emotional beats. It has all the elements to have been a hit, and maybe it would have been, but the movie's theatrical release was scuttled by the pandemic. It was initially released through Netflix, but is now rentable most places.

Hopefully, with Godzilla and Kong doing their thing more filmmakers will try their hand at putting their own spin on the genre!

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