28 June 2020
Although it would be easy to dismiss this as a visually arresting but ultimately derivative effort, Monos is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Its hallucinatory power flows from every shot and it will linger in your memory long after the final shot (another nod to an all-time classic that would act as a spoiler if disclosed) fades out to end credits.
We are in an unnamed country (for all intents and purposes, it’s Colombia), where a squadron of teenagers are training atop a misty mountain top. These child soldiers belong to the ‘Organisation’ — an unnamed paramilitary group whose intentions are never entirely clear, nor are its structural hierarchy. These kids are given the task of keeping an eye on an American engineer. And a milking cow.
They appear to live in a militaristic hierarchy (there is a squad leader), but once their ruthless trainer leaves them alone within their fog-walled castle, they turn into actual teenagers (of sorts). Soon power-hunger begins to upend their seemingly idyllic setting, hormones begin to flow, and the inevitable happens when teenagers are given machine guns.
The second half of the film sees them descend to the jungle and set up camp there, where their previously close bonds begin to disintegrate. Pacts begin to form and things quickly get out of hand.
There isn’t a plot as such and there are various treads that pull this to a brutal finale. There are obvious comparisons to the likes of Apocalypse Now (the entire film feels like its last 15 minutes stretched to feature length) and Lord of the Flies (a severed pig’s head features prominently), with a bit of the brutal natural reality of Deliverance thrown in (no spoilers here). The end result is sensuous, brutal, and uncompromising. The cast, vast of majority of whom are first-timers and amateurs, are absolutely on top form. Moises Arias who was the comedic heart of the brilliant The Kings of Summer is unnoticable here as the violent Bigfoot, while Julianne Nicholson (who apparently did all of her stunts) gives everything to her abducted engineer. I would especially would like to praise Sofia Buenaventura as the androgynous Rambo, carrying every scene with elegance and heartbreak.
Director and co-writer Alejandro Lenas creates a truly believable yet alien atmopshere, but the cherry on top is Mica Levi’s beautiful and haunting soundtrack. Its subtelty belies its complexity and adds a level of dream-like quality to a film that is already out of this world.
Is this the best film of 2019? Very likely.