‘monos’ is the most chaotic film of 2019

It's Gen Z 'Lord of the Flies'.

by Douglas Greenwood
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Oct 23 2019, 2:17pm

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

For the first half of Monos, we look down upon clouds. From a hideout spot perched on top of a mountain, eight teenagers indoctrinated by a guerilla war group called “The Organisation” keep watch over a prized milk cow and an American woman they’re holding hostage. Cut off from civilisation, that octet -- nicknamed Bigfoot, Rambo, Wolf, Lady, Swede, Dog, Smurf and Boom Boom -- have been drained of all rational thinking. Their toy guns have been replaced with real ones, which they recklessly fire into the air for fun. After all, when their master, known as The Messenger, isn’t around, there isn’t much else to do. They blindfold themselves and play football, dance around fires and experiment with three-way kisses.

If it sounds dreary and messed up, that’s because it is: Monos is the most chaotic film of 2019.

It’s also a masterpiece. Having premiered at Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year, Monos, the third film from director Alejandro Landes, has spent the past 10 months making pit stops at every movie event of note, winning fans and big prizes as it goes. Just last week, it won the Best Film award at BFI London Film Festival. The jury’s president, Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland, called it “a stunning cinematic achievement”. He, like the vast number of fans it has found so far, is right.

Tying the film to a specific genre is difficult because its most profound elements contradict each other. It’s a coming-of-age story in which the children are forced into “maturity” rather than discovering it themselves. It’s a war film, albeit one with no real side to root for. When Doctora, their desperate American refugee, finds an opportunity, you want her to find freedom. But minutes later you breathe a sigh of relief when -- *spoiler alert* -- she gets captured again. The enemy is everyone and no one.

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Soon, the film splinters like wood cracked in half with blunt force, sharp to the touch. For its second act, things get messier. The clackety, bird-like clicks the group use to communicate to each other when in war-mode get louder, more aggressive. And when they find a way to cut themselves off even further from the real world, they accept it without considering the consequences. Hell ensues: they chain each other up and throw themselves down choppy rivers, sleep with each other in muddy tents and face the terror of being bitten by a thousand hungry mosquitoes.

You can see why Mica Levi -- the musician, DJ and composer who’s also scored films like the arthouse sci-fi Under the Skin -- agreed to write its sparing, harrowing score. The sound tapestry she creates sounds like truck tyres ripping through mud one minute and a chorus of ghosts the next. Like Under the Skin, Monos also dives into its own conceptual universe and forms a daring cinematic language -- a murky middle ground between Apocalypse Now and a Disney classic -- that shakes you. Jasper Wolf, the film’s cinematographer, is the person responsible for dragging the viewer through it: from the top of the world to the rocky beds of jungle rivers, cutting through the black of night with hot orange flares.

But for all of its aesthetic brilliance, the thing that really makes Monos is its ability to leave you questioning its characters’ understanding of the human condition, and how that reverberates into the “real world”. What defines our morals? Who decides who we should answer to? And what can complete liberation do to people when their own understanding of society is already so skewed? Monos is a brutal film that has just as strong a footing in reality as it does in fairytales. It never answers any of those questions, but it doesn’t strive to either. Because it knows that even when the cameras switch off and the credits roll, the reckless brutality of man never stops.

MONOS is released in UK cinemas across UK & Ireland on 25 October 2019

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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