Fleeing from the fallout of a multi-million-pound banking fraud carried out by her amoral boyfriend, a young drifter exacts murderous revenge on a series of wealthy clients. As the body count mounts, a talented new crime investigator, equipped with an unusual mental ability, pursues this ruthless serial killer on a spree targeting rich victims across the country.
Through the exploration of this unusual set-up, a blend of genre, police procedural, crime caper, road trip and revenge flick, Monochrome reveals itself as a far from orthodox indie movie. Writer-director Lawes is keen to avoid the usual template tropes of the fantasy film genre and presents a story that, whatever its many shortcomings, does attempt to do something unfamiliar with its mash-up of styles.
The film pivots on the characters of the hunter and the hunted, who are inexorably drawn together as the film progresses. Jo Woodcock plays Emma Rose, the embittered ex-partner determined to mete out class vengeance on those she encounters. Rose is pursued by the solitary Gabriel Lenard, played by Cosmo Jarvis, who clashes with his superiors as he breaks all protocols in his single-minded determination to find Rose.
One of the unusual choices that Lawes’ makes is to give Lenard a rare medical condition named synesthesia; a neurological state which leads the brain to blend different senses, which in Gabriel’s case means that his vision is overlaid with colours that reflect perceptions pulled from other sensory inputs. It’s an idea with great visual and storytelling potential, but little is done with it.
It’s not the only disappointing choice that director Lawes’ makes. Keen to ensure that Monochrome has an understated and slightly otherworldly atmosphere throughout, Lawes has asked Jarvis and Woodcock to deliver restrained and subdued readings of their roles. As the character of Rose is emotionally and psychologically flattened by her experiences, and Lenard is closed-off and distant, toning down the performances leaves the film with two very muted and sketchily-drawn lead characters.
Far more leeway is given to the supporting cast, which allows James Cosmo to deliver a cracking (and an against type) turn as an arrogant and obnoxious artist, and Jan Francis to shine (again, against type) as an arrogant and obnoxious socialite.
Production values are strong and, despite the limitations of budget, this is a well shot indie film. Cinematography and design are good, and effective use is made of numerous exterior filming locations as the road trip unfolds. But there are too many themes fighting for attention, the lead characters remain unsympathetic and unengaging, and the ending delivers on the wrong plot payoff.
Risk-taking, imaginative indie-filmmaking is something to be encouraged, and this movie shows that Lawes is a writer-director with a distinctive style and take. He’s clearly an auteur to watch but would do well to produce something with more colour, tone and brightness than the flat and murky palette of Monochrome.
MONOCHROME / CERTIFICATE: TBC / DIRECTOR: THOMAS LAWES / WRITER: THOMAS LAWES / CAST: JO WOODCOCK, COSMO JARVIS, LEE BOARDMAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (US), TBC (UK)