DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO LANDES | SCREENPLAY: ALEJANDRO LANDES, ALEXIS DOS SANTOS | STARRING: JULIANNE NICHOLSON, MOISÉS ARIAS, SOFIA BUENAVENTURA, LAURA CASTRILLÓN, DEIBY RUEDA | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
High atop a mountain in a South American country, camp Monos is made up of a group of teenage soldiers. Their mission is to take care of an American hostage and a new arrival – a cow named Shakira, an even more valuable possession than the hostage.
The world of Monos takes us up away from busy cities and calm farmland. The camp exists on a mountaintop above the clouds, isolated from any civilisation in an unnamed country, with the kids tethered from any life that existed when they were down below. The film makes good use of its location, crafting beautiful images that make the teenagers seem like they’re in purgatory. This untethered location is reflected by the timeline as days drift into each other, perhaps into weeks. We don’t know how long they’ve been up there or how long the film spans, in what seems to be an unescapable location, with all roads leading back to the camp. The child soldier’s work for something only ever called ‘The Organisation’, a group in the midst of a conflict. Whether rebellious or terrorist, we’re never told, but we do know that it’s easily enveloped the lives of these teenagers and changed the courses of their future.
There are big servings of Lord of the Flies in Monos, including a pig’s head on a stick, with the teenagers left mostly to their own devices. A shaky hierarchy has formed, with leaders vying for power. The kids spend their time being teenagers. They flirt, they chat, play games, even if they do have an undercurrent of violence to them, except they’re wandering around with loaded machine guns. There’s some outside authority that’s rarely seen but brings their freedom crashing down with every visit. It cuts through the teenage lives they’re living with the heavy hand of adulthood. You’ll make no mistake that though no soldier can be older than 17, they’re still dangerous and have been tasked with keeping a hostage, all not fully invested players in an unnamed conflict that has very real consequences. The film offers no simple answers. Whether it’s against their will, a case of coercion, or if they’re believers in the cause, we never really know, instead you watch as the film unfolds and ego, orders and youth collide. As their fragile society starts to collapse, the children fall into violence, revenge and even lose a lot of vocal language, instead moving towards animalistic noises, looks and actions.
The disc release is quite a disappointing one. The extras only consist of a gallery and a sparse Making Of feature, but you get the impression that after it’s very strong critical reception it’s likely to have a more expanded release further down the line that goes into more depth.
Monos sucks you into it’s almost unearthly world, with just under two hours of running time slipping easily away as your drawn into the shaken lives of these teenagers and their relationships.