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

New Release Review - MONOLITH

New Release Review - MONOLITH
A podcaster is sucked into a conspiracy that may threaten her life.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Matt Vesely

Starring: Lily Sullivan

Monolith poster

There's a growing trend in recent years - no doubt exacerbated by the restrictions of the COVID pandemic - for thrillers that feature a single onscreen character communicating with an unseen supporting cast via a phone or another audio communication device. Done well, as in the taut Danish thriller The Guilty or the Tom Hardy vehicle Locke, it can reap satisfying rewards, but there's always the argument to be made that such storytelling is anti-cinematic and might just as well work in the form of a radio play. Monolith, the debut feature of director Matt Vesely and writer Lucy Campbell, features a single onscreen character communicating verbally, but it stands out from other examples by managing to use visual cues to further its story and character development.

Monolith review

Lily Sullivan, recently seen as the lead of Evil Dead Rise, plays an unnamed character credited only as The Interviewer. The host of a podcast named "Beyond Believable," she recently got into serious trouble by accusing a man of a crime he was found not guilty of committing. With an angry mob stationed outside her home, The Interviewer relocates to the seclusion of her parents' home, one of those modernist mansions with walls of glass that the villains of sci-fi movies always seem to live in. Desperate for a story to revive her damaged reputation, The Interviewer receives an anonymous email with a phone number for a woman named Floramae and a brief mention of a brick. The Interviewer calls the woman, who is initially confused until The Interviewer mentions the brick. The woman goes on to tell the story of how she was the housekeeper for a wealthy family until an incident in which her daughter was blamed for damaging a table. At the same time she received a strange present of a black brick from an unknown sender. Believing it to be a piece of art, her employers took the brick as compensation for the damage to the table and sold it to a German art collector.

When The Interviewer contacts the collector, he claims he has several of the bricks in his possession, and that 3D scans have revealed strange symbols embedded within the bricks. With little more to go on, The Interviewer posts an episode with this half-formed story, only to receive multiple replies from people who have similarly received such mysterious bricks. When she gets in touch with a few of these people, The Interviewer learns that the arrival of the bricks always seems connected to a dark time in each person's life, and some of them warn her to stop pursuing the story for her own good.

Monolith review

The mystery expands as The Interviewer delves deeper, uncovering connections to past events that seem to have been purposely buried. Even if Vesely simply placed his camera on his leading lady's face for the duration of the film, we'd be gripped by the mystery, which continually draws us in with each new revelation.

But Vesely takes a far more cinematic approach than most filmmakers who have dabbled in this increasingly popular format. Rather than simply sitting at a desk, The Interviewer moves around her parents' large home as she speaks on her cellphone. Vesely makes great use of the emptiness of the space, and as the narrative grows more sinister in the second half we get the sense that The Interviewer is in physical danger; we're just not sure from what exactly. There's a chilling sequence in which The Interviewer wakes up late in the morning after staying up all night and clicks a remote to raise the home's automatic blinds. As we watch the blinds slowly rise we're digging our nails into our armrests in apprehension of what might be revealed to be lurking outside the home. Even when The Interviewer is seated at her desk, Vesely cleverly uses the device of showing us close-ups of audio waveforms as The Interviewer records her conversations. Seeing the peaks, falls and empty spaces of the waveforms makes for a telling visual representation of how the person on the other end of the line is feeling.

Monolith review

Any film that revolves around a single character will ultimately succeed or fail on the strength of the performer occupying that role. Sullivan is magnificent as The Interviewer, evolving from cocksure and confident to paranoid, nervous wreck as the mystery overwhelms her and seems intent on wrapping her up in its enigmatic tentacles. By the end of the movie you'll likely be sharing her unease.

Monolith is on UK/ROI VOD from February 26th.

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