Ever watch a movie and, after it’s over, you think, “That was good… I think?”
That’s my first impression after watching Alejandro Landes’ third film, Monos. Though the director’s previous films were less on the mainstream radar, this one has been making award-winning splashes at festivals everywhere, including this year’s Sundance Film Fesitval. A lot of focus has been put on the film overall, but what makes it for me is Mica Levi’s unsettling score and Jasper Wolf’s beautiful, sometimes hallucinatory cinematography.
As the film begins we are introduced to eight child soldiers in the middle of a blind-folded soccer game. On a mountaintop nearly touching the clouds, the kids consistently take part in rigorous exercises overseen by their drill instructor, known only as the Messenger (Wilson Salazar). When he isn’t present, the kids — Rambo, Smurf, Bigfoot Wolf, Dog, Lady, Swede, Boom Boom — are charged with watching over a cow named Shakira and looking after a hostage they call Doctora (Julianne Nicholson).
Of course, when they aren’t preparing for military combat that the Messenger and “the Organization” are promising, the kids are indulging in whatever vestiges of joy they can find — namely drinking, shrooms, sex, and firing their guns off in the air. Before you can say Lord of the Flies, the debauchery gives way to internal conflict that builds to chaos as they lose control of their two main responsibilities.
If you’ve seen films such as Apocalypse Now or Aguirre, the Wrath of God, you’ll be familiar with the hypnotic and disturbing vibe this film puts off. All the performances are good, but the movie’s main goal is to create an unforgettable atmosphere and visuals. We know from the onset that this tale won’t end with sunshine or shiny happy people holding hands. Like the aforementioned films about perpetual wars and survivalism, this one tends to keep the viewer at a distance.
Characters’ backstories or complex emotions are coldly stripped down to borderline feral instincts. Consequently, you don’t find yourself too invested in the kids or their hostage’s predicament, much less who survives it all. It seems like Lende’s prime objective was to immerse us in the film’s madness until it becomes so arresting that it feels almost euphoric. That’s where the film prospers the most. If you’re the type of person who loves a good atmosphere-soak every now and then, this movie has your name all over it.
Oh yeah, just an FYI for animal lovers out there who prefer not to remember where they get their delicious brisket and barbecue from, you may wanna grab some popcorn or take a pee break during a couple scenes.
Monos — Rated R. Directed by Alejandro Landes. Starring Julianne Nicholson and Moisés Arias.