★★★★½ - STUFF
- The cheapest point any film reviewer in the world is going to score this year, is to drop a line into any review of Monos, comparing it to William Golding's Lord of the Flies.
Of course, the comparison is valid. Director Alejandro Landes (Porfirio) even gifts us a quick shot of a pig's head impaled on a stake, just in case anyone was missing the point. (Pardon the pun.)
But, it's a lazy comparison. Stories of groups of unsupervised youth in peril, splitting into factions and turning on each other, are as old as mythology. And Monos, viewed like that, does a quite brilliant job of making the journey to the story's final moments seem fresh, invigorated and compelling again.
High up in Colombia's mountains, amid great shifting swirls and drifts of mist and raincloud (cinematographer Jasper Wolf must have prayed to every god he knew to get these levels of cloud and fog. As with New Zealand indie Existence (2010), the weather in Monos is a vast special effect that no fog machine or digital wizardry could have created), a small band of teenage guerrilla recruits practice drills, learn how to shoot their weapons, fight, argue, fall in love and don't pay quite as much attention to their North American captive as they should.
She – Julianne Nicholson, referred to only as "Doctora"– is desperate to escape these teen and child warriors, but also aware she needs them to survive.
When enemy action nearby forces the platoon down from the mountains and into the dense jungle of the river valleys, she takes her chances.
In her wake, the gang – known to us only by their nicknames. Bigfoot, Boom Boom, Lady, Dog etc – turn on themselves in a bloody microcosm of the factional conflicts that have blighted Colombia for decades.
At one level, Monos is a brutal, engrossing, superbly well-shot, well-scored and better-than-average thriller of child-soldiers at war. Go in to your screening expecting all that and you'll come out pleased enough. With maybe a few questions to ask about an ending that might seem a little unresolved and ambiguous.
Or, go into Monos expecting all of the above, plus a pretty rigorous retelling of the old myth, the one about brutalised and betrayed youth turning on each other, that has lain at the heart of nearly every conflict you could name from antiquity until today – and then Monos might start to look like far more than a drama of war – and rather a pretty good fable of history in general and war in particular.
Hell, you could even compare it to Lord of The Flies.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
MONOS is now playing at Light House Petone & Cuba!