“MONOS” is a dramatic thriller from director Alejandro Landes who also penned the screenplay alongside Alexis Dos Santos. The cast is filled with primarily debut actors apart from Julianne Nicholson who you may recognize from her small roles in movies like “I, Tonya” and “Black Mass”. As well as Moises Arias who has done a lot of TV work in addition to appearing in some full-feature films such as “Ender’s Game”.
Similar to the tone of “The Lord of the Flies” this story centers on a group of kids living among themselves on a remote mountain top. But this isn’t summer camp. These kids live in harsh climates with bare-bone supplies. They are well armed and in possession of a hostage. Their communication with the outside world is minimal and as the isolation sets in, this group of young minds begin to unravel. As the bigger picture of the world around them, and their place in it becomes much clearer.
I love when a movie can create a world that I can escape into, with characters who face issues that cause me to contemplate my own actions in their place. With stunning visual locations and a lack of studio polish from the aspect of the direction from Landes, this film was able to immerse me into the beautiful, but unforgiving backdrops. It captures the world of these young characters and it resulted in a gritty, unrelenting level of immersion. As the viewer I felt like I was in the story with the characters and it naturally made where the path would go that much more fascinating.
The dialogue captures the rapport and relationship dynamics among the group, but the visual imagery builds a great deal of thought-provoking substance. The film opens on a stunning but bleak mountain landscape and seeing this group of kids, alone, enjoying their time like it was nothing was interesting. They wanted to be there, but with such remote locations why were they there? This immediately had me locked in. And as the group goes about their activities it quickly becomes clear there is a determination to them. There is a meaning to them being there, a hierarchy and group structure that is implemented on them. Not created by them.
Someone has this group there for a reason and seeing the information unfold in the progression of the story maintained a strong level of intrigue. The story develops the world around these kids and lays the groundwork for their purpose. And with just enough left for the imagination to surmise, I found the mystery surrounding the story great for adding more uneasiness to the atmosphere of it all. The reasoning behind this group being in hiding is revealed with a progression that matched the crumbling of them as a team and both angles of the story had a nice balance. These are young kids thrown into an adult world and when not following their imposed orders, their dying sense of freedom is conveyed through their self-indulgent actions with one another.
The cast was primarily first-time performers and it was a perfect complement to the structure of the story. The dialogue was not extensive. It was concise and to me felt like a side-dish to the visual story-telling. This allowed the cast to act inside the natural environments without having to deliver lengthy monologues and it did a fantastic job of effectively humanizing them all. I was able to connect with each of them in different ways and it was from the emotion and personality they wove into their roles. Some acted on fear, some had a need for control, others were motivated by group acceptance, and some felt simply lost. And this blend of backdrops was able to create enough to invest in them, despite not having more traditional backstories.
“Monos” is a slow-burn and while it does feel familiar to other titles in the sub-genre there was an artistic approach to it that makes it stand out. The direction from Landes captures endless waves of emotions from the characters while still being able to capture the depth of the surroundings. He takes the beauty of the landscapes and frames it in a way that creates an ominous vibe that is subtly unnerving. The story-line doesn’t force anything but is still unrelenting in its depiction of this group of kids falling apart from the pressures around them. And despite feeling familiar in places, I felt it added enough of its own elements to be genuinely unpredictable. Admittedly I would have liked a little more substance from the characters but again, what it gave was enough to make this a movie easily worth recommending.