Acclaimed by critics at Sundance and the Berlinale festivals earlier this year as “monumentally cinematic” (Tomris Laffly, RogerEbert.com), a film “crammed with visual bravado” (Rory O’Connor, Cinevue), and described by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as “the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year”, Monos is a hypnotically intense blend of war movie, coming-of-age tale and hostage thriller.
After an unexpected event befalls their mountain camp, a group of young soldiers in the remote mountains of Columbia must learn to fend for themselves whilst keeping an American hostage secure. Keeping clear of their guerrilla overlords becomes a priority, even as the elements beat down and their resources, both physical and psychological, begin to run out. Our window into this world is hostage Sara (an electrifying Julianne Nicholson). Caught up in the conflict and held captive in the camp, she is desperate to escape.
With this utterly compelling film, director Alejandro Landes is announced as a major new talent, rightly identified by Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro as “a powerful new voice in cinema”. Landes is direct with his influences, suggesting everything from Apocalypse Now to Lord Of The Flies with the film. But he is also careful to humanise these characters, bringing real empathy via an authentic script and richly impressionistic style.
There is a sense of adolescence here, of confusion and naivety, even as the kids’ actions become more extreme. It’s all beautifully acted by a cast of teenagers, many of them street-cast, adding a level of intensity and realism here rarely seen in cinema. Restless camerawork, lucid editing, staggering imagery and a stunning score by Under The Skin’s Mica Levi add to the effect.
The film pulls off a rare trick of achieving extraordinary specificity and universality, exploring the plight of soldiers caught in a seemingly endless conflict whilst also touching on the emerging sexuality, bonding and petty in-fighting that might exist amongst any group of young people learning to survive.
This is cinema at its most striking and unforgettable. Elemental set-pieces combine to deliver a breath-taking sense of spectacle. It moves with the pace and energy of a thriller, but retains a hugely resonant and important thematic undercurrent. You’ll see nothing else quite like it