Film Review: Monos
By Erik Nielsen
Directed by Alejandro Landes
If you hadn’t told me Monos took place in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, I’d have thought it existed in another dimension, someplace above the heavens but where the behavior of its inhabitants resembles something closer to hell.
The first half of this film flows like Lord of the Flies, a group of teens (who have names like Rambo, Boom Boom, and Smurf) living away from society. There’s no structure to their days only what impulses fester to the surface. They blindfold each other and play soccer, embrace in ritualistic dance, kiss, wrestle and fistfight. Ever so often, a jacked dwarf (yes) comes to train them and give them intel, from what he calls “The Organization”. He trains them in military activity, gives them assault rifles, a cow named “Shakira”, and tells them to prepare for the worst because the war, which goes unnamed and unexplained, might come to them.
The character that helps thread the plot together is “Doctora”, played with a jittery reluctance by Julianne Nicholson. She’s handed off as a prisoner of the unnamed war. She is forced, much like us, to engage and be part of the reckless activities of the teenagers. She tries to pit the kids against each other and fights for her life. She acts as our gaze into the mystery. We’re meant to identify with her struggle, acting as a double for the audience - confused and hopeful for an escape.
Director Alexander Landes creates an immediate sensory experience. The visions are gorgeous, the sounds bump and throttle your chest and you can smell the dirt these kids play in. Collaborating with Mica Levi, the composer of the film, was an immaculate choice. He is now three for three on major motion picture scores (Jackie, Under The Skin) creating another mesmerizing piece of music that enhances the textures of the film. He crafts a hypnotic score, syncing beautifully with the sounds of the characters and the world they inhabit as if the music was produced by the characters and not Levi.
The films hallucinatory and exploratory nature ventures deep into the cosmos of the wilderness and hits its trippy peak when three of the young characters eat some magic mushrooms (making it second to Midsommar in psychedelic adventures). The sultry greens and ominous bodies of water entrap and leave them wondering if they’ve ventured into their own dreamlike hell, until they come back to camp laughing and smiling. The beautiful jungle they end up travailing feels like it could last an eternity and counters the violent nature of the mud faced guerrillas as they abandon their “organization”. Much like Apocalypse Now, as their journey takes them deeper into the jungle, their behavior becomes increasingly violent, weirder and unpredictable.
Doctora will eventually escape and force the teens to react with violence. She has to battle the the jungle as much as she has to fend off the military trained teens. Even though the guerrillas have left their post altogether and abandoned their leader, they still feel connected to Doctora as a prisoner. She was theirs and they want her back.
The lack of insight into the civil war, stretching its fingers to unsuspecting villagers, makes the mystery and fate of the young guerrilla warfighters all the more alluring. We don’t know why they act as they do, we assume they’ll turn on each other, and they do, but why do they continue to fight and why do they believe in the cause? The film is a demanding but stunning indictment of militarism and the inability of people to reason in times of war. It questions the power structure but ultimately leaves the viewer wondering, what side is worth fighting for.