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Review: Monos

September 27, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Deep in South America, amidst the mountaintops and rainforests of Colombia, a ruthless band of teen soldiers hold an American woman (Julianne Nicholson) captive. They are known simply as the Organization, and when we first meet these rebels in the film Monos, their leader (Wilson Salazar), a short-statured commando, is barking orders at them during a rigorous training session atop a mountain.

There is no context given in the film as to what their idealogical motivations are or even why they are holding this woman – who is referred to only as “Doctora” – hostage, they may not even really know themselves. They are merely following orders, which is what they have been trained to do, and this ability to simply observe the mechanics of the group as they engage in guerrilla warfare is what makes the film such an interesting study of human behaviour.

They are given a milk cow to take care of, but when one of them accidentally kills the animal during a drunken episode, this leads to an escalating series of events that leaves them fighting to survive both the elements and each other. The different members of the group, who all go by Westernized nicknames including Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Smurf (Deiby Rueda), Boom Boom (Sneider Castro), Swede (Laura Castrillón), Dog (Pail Cubides), Lady (Karen Quintero) and Wolf (Julian Giraldo), all jostle for domination, with the one Bigfoot (Moisés Arias) trying to establish himself as the de facto leader.

The third film from Colombian-Ecuadorian director Alejandro Landes, Monos is an raw and visceral survival thriller, and the striking images on display are ultimately its main selling point. Jasper Wolf’s brilliant cinematography draws us into this world, with imagery that is at times dark and moody and other times sweeping and vibrant in how it captures the natural landscapes, shifting between panoramic wide shots and extreme closeups. The film’s action scenes have a gritty, you-are-there quality to them, including a tense raid sequence shot through the lens of night vision goggles. Mica Levi’s commanding musical score provides thrilling accompaniment to what’s happening visually.

The screenplay by Landes and Alexis Dos Santos draws upon a myriad of influences, chief among them being Lord of the Flies, with its study of how isolation and lack of shared resources causes people to become feral and develop hierarchies amongst themselves recalling elements of William Golding’s classic book. Watching Monos provides a unique experience, a thriller that unfolds with an immediate, observational style that at times makes it appear like a documentary, and other times like a terrifying fever dream. The imagery alone makes it worthy of being seen on the big screen if you can.

Monos is now playing in limited release at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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