HomeMovies'Monos' Review: The Most Pulse-Pounding and Haunting Film of 2019

‘Monos’ Review: The Most Pulse-Pounding and Haunting Film of 2019

Photo Courtesy of NEON

Written by Tom Moore

Writer-director Alejandro Landes evokes feelings reminiscent of William Golding’s iconic novel, Lord of the Flies with his third feature film, Monos, and ends up creating something immensely darker, pulse-pounding, and haunting than anything else that has hit theaters thus far this year.

The film follows a group of kids on an isolated mountaintop as they carefully watch over a hostage (Julianne Nicholson) for a dangerous militia. Isolated from civilization and spending most of their time with one another, the group has free spirits, strong survival instincts, and itchy trigger fingers. However, after they receive a gift in the form of a cow from the militia, things take a dark turn when the cow is accidentally killed. With feelings of doubt and blame infecting the group, tragedy strikes so hard that it tears them apart and turn them into something much more primal.

Right away, the vast, lonely Colombian landscape impacts how isolated this group really is. Although, rolling hills and dense jungles can be seen in the distance, Landes’ use of smoke, fog, and tight camera shots creates this deep sense of isolation that heavily resonates with viewers as they follow the group. This feeling never lets up and it’s one of the many things that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats throughout its runtime. The environment actually plays a heavy role in the film, presenting survival challenges for the group and their hostage and the sound design creates some anxiety inducing moments. Not to mention, the score from Mica Levi adds to the film’s tension and is perfectly used to elevate the already haunting atmosphere.

Nothing compares to the performances, though, as this group of kids and their hostage evoke a lot of different emotions. I love how Landes introduces viewers to the group playing games and displaying their free-minded spirits as it shows that even though this group has clearly been influenced by the militia — to the point where they won’t even have relationships without their permission — they still have the mindsets of their age. Introducing them this way also makes their survival efforts and darker turns as things get more primal for the group more impactful. Viewers can feel the group breaking down throughout the film and each break, turn, and even death hits harder because of how masterfully Landes builds palpable tension.

Landes utilizes the sound and tightness of the environment to constantly keep viewers on edge and it leads to a lot of darkly surprising moments. The score and sound are never overused, and a lot of the film’s big moments land an effective gut punch and end up being much more emotional because of it. While the story seemingly presents the groups path to destruction early on, the film constantly takes surprising turns that make Monos a pure thrill ride. From the group slowly turning on one another to the hostage struggling to find ways to escape and survive, there’s an uneasiness that lays dormant until it’s ready to rise to the surface and put viewers on edge and keeps them there. The film’s final sequences will undoubtedly leave viewers shaken as Landes also utilizes night-vision in a way that hasn’t been done so effectively since Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe and while I think that the way Landes leaves the fate of most of the group ambiguous a little unsatisfying, there’s no doubt that he ends the film on a perfectly haunting note.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are two truly standout performances from Moises Arias as Bigfoot and Wilson Salazar as the “Messenger,” the only connection the group has to the militia. Arias has had some great performances recently, with films like Kings of Summer and Five Feet Apart, but his performance here is truly top tier. While all of the performances from the group and Nicholson are great, there’s just something incredibly special about Arias’s performance. Perhaps it’s the way that Arias makes audiences feel him trying to control the intense, powerful struggle that consumes the group or how he portrays how the militia’s influence has deeply affected Bigfoot’s views on those around him. Nevertheless, it’s truly a testament to how strong of a performer he is. I also found Salazar’s performance to be very powerful as he is the kind of character that, visually, would be often played off as a joke. However, Landes and Salazar have no intentions of that, and Salazar creates an incredibly strong character that not only continuously rattles the group, but plays a very strong role in the group’s unraveling that’s hard to watch unfold.

If there’s anything to come away from watching Monos, it’s that Landes is a truly fresh mind that cinema should start to recognize and whose career we should keep our eyes on. It’s definitely going to play a strong part in the foreign film category at this year’s Oscars with Colombia already selecting Monos as their representative, and while Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is still the clear front-runner in that category, Monos has the chops to make it a worthy competitor.

Monos is now playing in select theaters.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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