By Clark Collis
Updated October 25, 2010 at 03:25 PM EDT

Image Credit: Matt Carr/Getty ImagesBritish director Gareth Edwards admits that he was “constantly s—ting myself” while filming his debut movie Monsters, which hits screens this Friday and was shot in Mexico and Central America. “In Guatemala, there was a gunfight outside our hotel,” he recalls. “And there was a prison riot and prisoners decapitated some inmates and put their heads by the prison fence. We tried to hide that from the actors. One time we went through Mexico and the week before, there had been a machine-gunning at a local café. We tried not to tell the actors about that either.”

Edwards contends, however, that his terror during the shoot had nothing to do with such incidents. “It was never about what was happening around us,” he says “It was always about, ‘Is the story making sense?’ We were trying to make something that was different. So there was always this sense of, ‘What are we doing? This is crazy!’”

Despite its title, Monsters is certainly not your average horror movie. It isn’t really a horror movie at all. Edwards’ film is set in the near future when the crash of a NASA probe that was carrying alien material has resulted in a large area south of the American border being overrun by by massive extraterrestrial creatures. But Edwards mostly keeps the beasties well in the background as he concentrates on the relationship between a photographer (Scoot McNair) and his boss’s daughter (Whitney Able), who he must escort across monster country and back to the safety of the U.S.

The aliens are impressive when you do see them, doubly so given that Edwards digitally inserted the creatures into the footage using his home computer. Yet the result is really more of a romantically-inclined, indie-road movie than a terror flick — a vibe reinforced by the semi-improvised nature of the shoot and the production’s minimal manpower. In fact, the cast is mostly made up of “real” people that Edwards and his two leads met during their travels. No wonder the director found himself having second thoughts about his movie. Edwards says his concerns were not lessened by the reactions of friends when he talked to them about the project. “They’d be like, ‘That sounds like the s—test film ever made, Gareth.’ And you’d think, ‘Yeah, it might well be.’”

Edwards was partly inspired to make Monsters by his experience directing a far more crew-ed up film about Attila the Hun for the BBC, albeit one whose effects he also created on his home computer. “I found it really frustrating,” he says of making the movie. “There was a crew of about 50 people and they’re all there to help. But whenever you asked for anything, it was ‘No, we can’t do that,’ or ‘We can do it, but it will take half an hour to sort that.’ And you think, ‘This is mad. Why is this better?’ And the reason it’s better, is because you can’t have that production value without all that expense. But that’s not so much the case now with digital technology because you can add the production value. When there’s hundreds of people fighting on the TV show, that was done in my bedroom for nothing. When there’s an actor in a room against a wall, that probably cost ten grand.”

Edwards says the Monsters production was so minimal that actor Scoot McNair started to worry that he might be the victim of some Punk’d-style practical joke. “We were filming behind-the-scenes material,” says Edwards, “and after a while he got paranoid that it was going to turn out to be a film about a film going wrong. Like we were somehow tricking them. He kept bringing this up a lot, so we’d play along with it and talk about when we were going to get the ‘real’ footage and then we’d all shut up as he walked in.”

The assorted fears of both Edwards and McNair proved unfounded. The film screened at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year and was snapped up by Magnet Releasing, who kept Edwards’ eye-grabbing, though arguably misleading, title.

“I went through it a million times in my mind: How do you tee this film up?” says Edwards, who is currently developing a movie with ” target=”_blank”>Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov. “If you called it some generic title that doesn’t tell you much, and you don’t tell anyone that there are any creatures in it, that might have been a better way to go. But I don’t think I’d be sitting here talking to you right now. Some people will think, ‘What the hell is this film?’ But I’d be very worried if someone watched it and said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I imagined it would be like.’ I’d be thinking, ‘Well, where’s my role in this?’”

You can check out the trailer for Edwards’ film below. The movie is also available on VOD.

Are you intrigued enough to check out Monsters? Have you seen it already? What did you think?