Written by Alejandro Landes & Alexis Dos Santos
Directed by Alejandro Landes
Above the clouds, on a Colombian mountaintop, a small group of teenage commandos kills time while protecting their hostage, an American doctor. We are immediately thrust into a mythic, alien landscape in the opening frames of Monos. The music adds to the slow, foreboding atmosphere, hinting at the Lord of the Flies-esque finale that will inevitably come. This immediate move to set the mood is a brilliant choice and quickly brings us into this mysterious, strange world.
The Messenger, a little person, working for the more massive revolutionary army, arrives to deliver a cow for milk and authorize the romantic relationship between Wolf, the group’s leader & Lady, one of two female members of the group. When you leave a group of adolescents with guns waiting around for further orders while they knew their comrades are engaged in battle, something is going to go wrong. Bigfoot, a bold & cocky member of the group, begins to see room for his own rise to prominence and starts to agitate the group to follow him. The doctor is losing her mind, and a little sympathy is seen in the eyes of Rambo, a transgender soldier, and their stories become paralleled.
Director Alejandro Landes is obscuring the details of the conflict and the period purposefully. He’s trying to create an allegorical tale, turning these characters into archetypes in an ancient story that has been told many times over. There are shades of the Lost Boys from Neverland and the aforementioned Lord of the Flies when a pig’s head on a stake shows up. The descent into anarchy is paced well and feels like an accurate breakdown of order. The schisms feel a little telegraphed and obvious, though. I could read the moment Bigfoot was going to go completely AWOL from the revolutionary and so I wasn’t really surprised in any meaningful way.
The most interesting and underexplored character in the film is Rambo, who is given less development than the Doctor. It’s good that we get to see things through the eyes of the captive, but I think Rambo’s coming to terms with her friends’ madness would have been a better perspective. Landes does an excellent job keeping our sympathies shared between the kids and their hostage, they are both victims caught up in a war that they don’t really seem to understand or remember the roots of.
The star here is the cinematography of Jasper Wolf. I was not familiar with his previous work, but Monos feels like a stunning achievement. He films two landscapes, the mountains & the jungle and brings a particular mood to each. The mountains have the feeling of being on the edge of the world, about to fall off into oblivion. The jungle is a claustrophobic web of trees, confusing and impossible to escape. Mica Levi handles the score, and she delivers another unsettling composition, not as powerful as her work in Under the Skin, but still perfect at creating a feeling of disconnect with reality.
Monos spends too much muddling in abstraction to make it’s emotionally volatile moments hit as hard as I would have liked. It has stellar aesthetics and a devotion to craft that is evident. I loved the ending and the parallels being implied between the doctor and Rambo’s final fates. One of them is named when rescued, and the other is seen as a blank. Sofia Buenaventura as Rambo is the big standout for me, delivering the best performance on the screen.