Monos

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  Monos
 

In a remote mountain hamlet, a group of adolescent commandos trains by day and party hard at night. They are given responsibility, by the Commander, for the care and safety of a priceless resource, a cow named Shakira. But their careless hedonism ends with the precious cow dead and their leader, Wolf (Julian Giraldo), committing suicide. Then, things really fall apart for the motley crew in “Monos.”

Robin:
It will be obvious to most film buffs that director Alejandro Landes found his inspiration for his second feature film, at least in part, in Peter Brook’s 1963 classic, “Lord of the Flies,” adapted from the William Goldman novel. But, that comparison is just the starting point for the seemingly post-apocalyptic tale of a youthful, and heavily armed, tribe of children warriors.

The question I asked was: what purpose do these child soldiers have? Except for the task of guarding a hostage called Doctora (Julianne Nicholson) being kept for some obscure reason, the heavily armed youngsters have no discernible function – except to shoot off a bunch of celebration rounds, to tragic ends.

The death of Wolf is the trigger that changes the barely under control pack to an unruly mob – hence my “Lord of the Flies” reference – that defy authority. The fragile band of brothers and sisters, under the new “leadership” of Big Foot (Moises Arias), rapidly disintegrates to chaos, not ending well for most of the tiny tribe.

The cast of mostly novice actors go through their paces well enough and the story, by director Alejandro Landes and Alexis Dos Santos, held my attention but I never felt a sense of purpose to the story. It is, under the surface, an intro to something more from the filmmakers. I give it a C+.

Laura:
High up on a misty, mossy South American mountain, a group of teenagers play something like soccer with blindfolds on.  They are addressed by Messenger (former FARC guerilla commander Wilson Salazar), their adult emissary from The Organization who has seen fit to loan the rebel militia group a dairy cow named Shakira.  But chaos and violence will erupt when the cow is accidentally shot, their squad leader commits suicide, their hostage, Doctora Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson, "I, Tonya"), escapes and their new leader, Bigfoot (Moisés Arias, "The Kings of Summer," "Five Feet Apart") declares sovereignty for the rebel group called "Monos."

Inspired by Columbia's civil war, cowriter (with Alexis Dos Santos)/director Alejandro Landes has gathered a group of mostly non-professional actors to create a cautionary fable about the human foibles which corrupt ideology.  Initially, the film has a disorienting effect, the director throwing us into the action with no exposition, The Organization's purpose never articulated, but once we get our footing, the group called Monos and its hostage consume our attention.

Squad leader Wolf (Julián Giraldo) may not be around for long, but his request to take Lady (Karen Quintero) as his partner sparks the first of two love triangles when Lady includes the androgynous Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura) in a kissing session.  (Later, the squad's new leader will use his position for vengeance when Swede (Laura Castrillón) favors his second-in-command, Boom Boom (Sneider Castro), over him.)  Monos may appear disciplined during the daytime, but come evening the fun begins, Wolf and Lady's union begetting a bonfire, flares and the shooting of automatic weapons.  It is Dog (Paul Cubides) whose random firing inadvertently kills Shakira, but only Lady wishes to report the truth after Bigfoot reasons that Dog will be executed when they can pin the blame on the deceased Wolf.  (Warning - the cow is butchered on screen.)

It is only when Doctora is prepared for a 'proof of life' appearance that we realize she is a hostage, so companionable has her presence been among them despite her paler, freckled skin and age difference.  Then someone finds psychedelic mushrooms growing in Shakira's cowpats and while Monos partakes in all manner of trippy indulgences, the Doctora seizes her moment and Smurf (Deibi Rueda), the group's youngest who was left on guard, will pay dearly for her escape.  Desperation on all fronts leads to further violence, the breakdown of a microcosm of society.

Landes differentiates each and every one of his oddly named characters with the feral intensity of Arias, the only experienced actor, making the strongest impression while Quintero encapsulates the raging hormones at play within Monos.  Nicholson endures an uncomfortably physical performance, making us feel the ravages of the jungle.  But all these performances are embellished with the beautiful craft on display, from Jasper Wolf's cinematography, which includes stunning underwater interludes, to the sound design which tortures us with the insects swarming Doctora.  The film's single most stunning achievement comes from composer Mica Levi ("Under the Skin"), her original score comprised of wavering call and response whistles and thunderous drum rolls which sound forged from rippling metal sheets.

"Monos" has been compared to "The Lord of the Flies," but it also has aspects of "The Beach," "Apocalypse Now" and Herzog's South American films in its DNA.  But this fable it just a little too ambiguous, the fate of Monos' lone member staring into the camera at film's conclusion entirely up in the air.

Grade:  B
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