The clouds roll in under the summit of a mountain somewhere in Latin America. The foreboding landscape home to a group of teenagers named Boom Boom, Rambo, Dog, Smurf, Lady, Swede, Bigfoot and Wolf. All of whom are being schooled in the art of combat by a short mysterious muscular man. After training has ceased the man introduces the teenagers to a gift in the form a milking cow. The pint sized soldiers under strict instruction to take care of the cow at all costs. It’s milk a wonderful source of vitamins and nutrients.
However, the cow isn’t the only captive of the young group. Hidden in the caves is Docutra (Julianne Nicholson). An American women who is trotted out to read news in front of a camera. While occasionally offering tenderness to the child soldiers as a captive quasi mother figure. As the hormonal teens are kept in line by the occasional visit from the short muscular man, and radio contact with ‘The Organisation’ who control them.
Hence starts Alejandro Landes beautiful yet haunting tail of young people left to their own devices. The teenagers lives controlled from a distance yet equally uncontrollable. While hormones, guns, livestock and captives mix on a dew soaked mountain top as the groups fragile structure is tested.
One part Lord of the Flies and one part Apocalypse Now. Landes creates a dream like atmosphere. While equally never allowing a clear view of the reason for the young soldiers mission. Consequently some may frustration in the narrative that follows, as no simple answers are provided. However, ultimately Monos is a study of peer influence, tribal belonging and adult indifference. In a group where a captive adult is the only real positive adult influence. And even this influence is tied to her longing to escape the group at any cost. Ultimately leading to teenagers only have themselves for guidance, support, and growth. Their group culture and practices at odds with the hidden cities they are no longer a part of. While the actions of the group slowly spiral into tribal belonging.
Monos takes the classic themes of Lord of the Flies, while adding a unique atmosphere of gender fluidity. The societal structures of male and female no longer important to the young people. As their identity amalgamates into a singular gender construct. With group relationships based on physical attention, power and place, the gender of the person no longer a barrier in achieving status through sex and partnership. The dystopian atmosphere of the camp and group behaviours balanced with a sense of equity until alpha male Bigfoot takes control. His behaviour ultimately taking the group down a dark and slippery slope of fragmentation and tribal violence.
Monos is visually stunning for the outset, matched with a unique score that buzzes with adrenaline and volatility of youth. While the mountainous landscape of the first act, descending into the animalistic jungle of the second act. The teenagers themselves embracing the descent into the predatory jungle, their own destructive power born of place rather than purpose.
While the tribal belonging of the peer group eventually replaces the world outside, with those who cannot commit isolated and hunted. Their only real option of survival the peer group they long to escape. A message that resonates with gang membership and conflict in cities far away from the events at play in Monos.
Monos is daring and visually stunning filmmaking. The cinematography of Jasper Wolf sweeping you into the midst of the group, the claustrophobia of belonging interfacing with the wide open canvas of mountains, jungles and rivers. Alejandro Landes using every inch of the films cinemascope format, while also ensuring the audience feel a part of the groups descent into darkness.
Monos is a truly unique film, providing a cinematic journey that is a beautiful, dark and relentless enigma.
Director: Alejandro Landes
Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Moisés Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillón, Deiby Rueda, Esneider Castro, Paul Cubides, Wilson Salazar