Monos film review

Year: 2019
Director(s): Alejandro Landes
Writer(s): Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos
Region of Origin: Columbia
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 102 mins

Synopsis: On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow. (Source)

In trying to reconcile conflict, most films about war unwittingly choose one side over another. They boil down an inexplicable, immeasurable rivalry to oversimplified terms. Alejandro Landes’ Monos does no such thing. Ambiguously pulling from Columbia’s war torn history, Landes’ film takes an inescapable, human perspective. This isn’t a film about the whys or hows, but instead a ground-level perspective of the psychological turmoil and innocence lost forever in the face of battle. With such a humane perspective, Landes contrasts visual beauty with progressive dread. The existential terror is matched only by the majesty of stark, gritty photography and performances that hit is straight in the gut. Definitely not an experience for everyone, Landes’ film is important nevertheless. It’s a reminder of how deep human the experience is, and how beauty is often inextricable from pain and tragedy. 

Somewhere in a remote mountaintop in Latin America, a small group of kids are playing ball. Things seemingly seem innocent, but we quickly find out that they’re a cell of guerrilla soldiers code named Monos. Their task is to watch over a prisoner whom they sometimes treat as one of their own. Though Monos ranges from pre-teen to young adult, a faceless conflict has unquestionably claimed their service. After an attack forces the group to relocate, pent up aggression, infighting and a set of uncontrollable variables test Monos’ allegiances to a war that they can’t fully comprehend.  

Despite the premise, the film takes no prisoners in its unflinching approach to immersion. Violence is not glorified, but instead something we feel and can’t look away from. Landes ability to mix his characters’ innocence with feral cruelty blends both a warm compassion with primal regression. With the context of the story’s conflict deliberately held back, we’re left to ponder each scene and interaction on its own, living moment-to-moment as these characters struggle with their own mortality and humanity. Nothing is black and white, yet the bloody beating heart beneath each scene can be felt. To seal the deal, the film seems to also be unmoored from time. Anachronistic elements give Monos’ gritty world a timeless slant that is urgent above all else. More than a mere Lord of the Flies clone, Landes’ film is a monumental achievement like nothing before it. 

Monos review Moises Arias

Inseparable from Landes’ world building and naturalistic approach, is a cast that puts us face to face with our most primal instincts. A slowly emerging presence from Monos’ own ranks, Moises Arias’ Bigfoot renders a terrifying transformation. His character gradually leads charge, embodying contrasting perspectives of childhood, innocence and rage. Laura Castrillon’s Swede and Karen Quintero’s Lady offering up diverging views of feminism amidst turmoil and awakening. As Rambo, Sofia Buenaventura carries pivotal moments of inner conflict to the fore, while Julianna Nicholson’s Doctora is an outsider forced to survive. These are just a few of the standouts, and together, the ensemble doesn’t have a weak link. Everyone carries their own weight, making the film hit hard and fast. 

Taking everything into consideration, it’s reductive to simply call Monos a war film. It’s elemental in scope and ambition, somehow singling out the very traits that make us who we are, and they ways we fight to either transcend or safeguard these impulses. Rather than a simple narrative, Landes has distilled the battle that rages within. With doc-style realism, an otherworldly score from Mica Levi, and stunning photography working together perfectly, this is something meant to be felt and not seen. We can’t view this as a bystander, but as an unwilling participant. By the time those credits roll, we’ve been forced to take part in every action. It’s this form of absorption that makes Landes’ film a necessary reflection of who we are and where we can go from here.