The Movie Waffler New Release Review - MONOS | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - MONOS

monos film review
In a Latin-American nation, a group of child soldiers guard an American prisoner.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Alejandro Landes

Starring: MoisΓ©s Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julianne Nicholson, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura CastrillΓ³n, Deiby Rueda, Esneider Castro, Paul Cubides, Wilson Salazar

monos film poster



A worthy winner of the London Film Festival's 2019 Official Competition Award, Monos is an astonishing trip into the heart of darkness that pays off if you lend it the patience it needs.

Heart of darkness is an appropriate choice of words because Joseph Conrad's novella is brought to mind here, the second most discernible reference point after 'Lord of the Flies'. The Monos are a small group of teen soldiers on assignment in the middle of a remote valley in an unspecified Hispanic country, watching over a prisoner of war and looking after a conscripted milk cow. The tense foundations of an isolated mountaintop, eight armed youngsters, an American hostage and a cow is all we’re presented with. The medley of personalities engage with formal military training, but when their troop leader offs himself following an accident with the cow, they start making their own rules.

monos film review

There's a major lack of context to who these kids are, the background of their diminutive instructor Messenger (Wilson Salazar), why they were selected, what's their end goal, why they are here and just about any other question you can think of that begins with a W. It’s all rather skeletal and the wide focus on the Monos as a collective removes a possible personal latch on to any of the squad members, each named after dangerous creatures (Wolf, Dog, Bigfoot, Smurf, Rambo, etc.).

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However, you begin to realise it's not really the point to know the rudiments or ask for the director to guide us on an unambiguous path, as Alejandro Landes fluidly taps into our primal instincts to fill out the rationale for what’s going on. Through channeling human nature, Monos unveils itself as a profound depiction of aggression as our natural form of survival, a moralistic civil war between diplomacy and violence. These kids know guns as a way to resolve conflicts and prevent further ones, and it can all be paralleled with prolonged real-world conflicts.

monos film review

At the risk of sounding unappreciative of the writer-director’s efforts, I feel that Monos owes more to smart audiences than smart writing - the varying thematic applications have been the most fascinating facet of the film, significantly more so than the actual contents of the story which, as aforementioned, feel bare without background. While it might sound like a slight to his writing, I also acknowledge that it's a bona fide skill to write a "one-size-fits-all" template. It's the Minecraft of guerrilla war movies; we put the meat on the bones.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - By the Grace of God ]

Craft alone, Monos is astonishing. Mica Levi's sparse score does very heavy lifting in creating mood and atmosphere. With each movie she works on, from Under to Skin to Jackie to this one, her talent overwhelms. In addition to the soundscape, Jasper Wolf’s gorgeous cinematography immerses us in the anarchy. There are jaw dropping scenes underwater - characters fighting and swimming in rapids - and it's totally believable such a committed cast and crew would be up for the gruelling challenge of executing the feats naturally.

monos film review

As the American POW doctor, Julianne Nicholson is remarkable, her physically demanding work admirably accompanied by a slew of fresh faces who are frighteningly good at embodying the bellicose nature of child soldiers. The highlight is bilingual star MoisΓ©s Arias, who plays Bigfoot, who becomes the de facto leader of the Monos through savage enterprise, making you briefly forget he’s most famously known as Rico Suave in Hannah Montana.

Considering its thought-provoking capabilities, this hypnotic film should be seen on the big screen for two reasons. Firstly, it's because of the focused concentration that the theatre provides, necessary for a film that doesn’t hold your hand. Secondly, the cinema offers the capacity to appreciate the astounding technical work. I always advocate for seeing movies in the cinema but especially for one that occupies your mind long after it’s over with all sorts of thoughts about war, geopolitics, interpersonal dynamics and the filmmaking process.

Monos is in UK/ROI cinemas October 25th.




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