Reviews | Written by Laura Potier 22/10/2019

MONOS [LFF 2019]


Somewhere in Latin America, on a mountaintop high above the clouds, a feral group of teenage guerrillas train under the stern eye of their commanding officer (played by real-life ex-rebel fighter Wilson Salazar).

They are the Monos, named after a giant mythical monkey, a branch of the nebulous ‘Organisation’. Their location, the year, their cause, their motivations, what led them to that mountaintop, we do not know. Monos rejects any specific context or exposition, and denies the viewer any point of reference; dropped in an unknowable land with complete strangers, you have no choice but to let the film sweep you along.

These kids, with noms de guerre like Bigfoot, Wolf, Boom Boom, Lady, and Rambo, are soon left to their own devices with only three tasks: to await by the radio for their next orders, to care for a conscripted dairy cow named Shakira (what else) and to watch the American hostage ‘Doctora’, played by a fully committed Julianne Nicholson.

They dance like demons around wild bonfires, participate in strange and violent rituals, are encouraged to engage in sexual relations among themselves, and oscillate between tormenting and embracing their prisoner. With hormones, guns and drugs in play however, it doesn’t take long for things to go sideways. When their precious cow is accidentally shot and killed during Wolf and Lady’s ‘wedding’ celebrations, a chain of increasingly horrific and disastrous events is set off.

From Lord of the Flies, the story now fully devolves fully into last-act-of-Apocalypse Now territory. From a disorientating, dreamlike drama, into the worst fever dream. Visually and psychologically disturbing, Monos continues to deny the audience any grounding, shifting point of view from character to character. Here lies one issue with Monos, however. Without any exposition and without spending much time with any one character, it’s difficult to emotionally connect to performances that are physical above all else.

Many of the pivotal events – a suicide, an attempted escape, a murder, a slaughter – fail to elicit a reaction beyond visceral horror. While that’s not necessarily a notch against the film, you may not feel as invested in these teens as you wish you did. Aside from that, it’s undeniable that Monos is a viewing experience verging on the epic, and that is in no small part thanks to the work of cinematographer Jasper Wolf and of composer Mica Levi.

Complimenting the raw beauty of the mountainous landscape, dense jungle, crushing thunderstorms, raging rivers and ever-shifting lighting, the electronic score creates an unnerving, claustrophobic sense of impending danger despite the endless vastness of the setting. It’s one that demands the big-screen treatment whenever possible.

Monos is stunning and terrifying, a dream collapsing into a nightmare. It is so unstable and so alive that by the end, the audience is shaken and exhausted, but secure in the fact they have experienced something truly unique and cinematic.

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