This survivalist tale balances its raw, primitive edge with a stylish and contemporary visual style, but like a fever dream, it is intense but also unfocused.
Dir. Alejandro Landes
2019 | Colombia | Drama/Thriller | 102 mins | 2.35:1 | Spanish & English
M18 (passed clean) for violence, language, some sexual content and drug use
Cast: Sofia Buenaventura, Julián Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias
Plot: On a remote mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow.
Awards: Won World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award (Sundance); Nom. for Teddy Award (Berlin)
International Sales: Le Pacte
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector (distributed by Anticipate Pictures)
This Colombian submission to the Oscars for Best International Feature does not so much explore but take the uncompromising plunge into themes of survival, power and violence.
In fact, Monos is to me the kind of film that announces its visual and aural bravura from the onset—and with the assurance that something extraordinary will soon unfold.
It is indeed intense and powerful in several bursts of scenes that pit humans against the natural elements—raging rapids, pitch-black darkness, the unforgiving jungle, etc.
But its narrative, which centers on a group of heavily-armed Colombian kids detaining a hostage (an American woman) in the remote mountaintop, feels rather unfocused.
The film is loosely based on William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. The severed head of a pig appears in the film as an homage to the novel.
We do get to know a bit about each of these kids, as well as the relational dynamics amongst them that become more tenuous and volatile by the day.
However, writer-director Alejandro Landes has no one in particular to focus on, which is not a bad thing, though the consequence is that it is challenging to identify emotionally with any of them, except at the basest level of life and death, which I feel is not enough.
The film’s raw, primitive edge recalls the best of Herzog’s man-versus-nature pictures, but while it is impressive to see the cast gamely endure physical and psychological torment for the sake of art, Monos doesn’t say much in the quieter scenes of introspection.
Its stylish and contemporary visual style, plus a striking Mica Levi score, however, keep us in the fever dream for as long as possible.