By Jim Slotek
A kind of Lord of the Flies set amid a Latin American guerilla war with child soldiers, Monos is an immersive, sweaty, almost hallucinatory experience of hormone-driven anarchy.
Co-written and directed by Colombian filmmaker and sometime Miami Herald reporter Alejandro Landes, it’s a tale of eight adolescents who comprise a mini-platoon called Monos, acting on behalf of a revolutionary group called The Organization.
Their ties to a cause notwithstanding, the group – whose members have nicknames like Rambo, Wolf, Bigfoot and Smurf – is on its own, with but one job, to guard a captured American woman (Julianne Nicholson), whom they call “Doctora.”
It’s a boring task, made more frustrating by visits from The Messenger (Wilson Salazar), an immensely strong small person who puts them through rigorous training and military abuse on his regular visits. The mixed gender group has plenty of energy to burn off at night, with drugs, sex and inebriated misuse of firearms. (The accidental killing of a valued dairy cow is a violent catalyst to events that follow).
Already in trouble with the Organization, and with the chain of command in disarray following an armed raid, the group starts to think of itself as an independent entity. A coup sees the undersized-but-brutally-ambitious Bigfoot (Moises Arias) taking over both the command previously held by Wolf (Julian Giraldo) and his relationship with Wolf’s girlfriend Lady (Karen Quintero).
The Monos group’s disintegration closely parallels the dynamic in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, with the weakest member (Deiby Rueda’s Smurf) and the most compassionate (Rambo, played by Sofia Buenaventura) either in direct danger or on the run for their lives. The last act and ending almost seamlessly match Golding’s.
But it’s the milieu that makes Monos the indie film experience that it is. Landes pointedly declines to identify the rebel group or the politics involved (though it’s safe to assume The Organization was inspired by the Colombian “People’s Army” FARC. The movie is shot in Colombian jungle locales rebels would hide in, and which, by their isolation and daunting environment, are seldom used as film locations. This is a cast that suffered for its art.
Cinematographer Jasper Wolf uses the location images, particularly the night scenes, to chilling effect. An escape attempt by Doctora features what amount to natural visual and audio effects by the voracious jungle insects themselves.
And in a movie where we quickly sort out the individual personalities, Arias’ Bigfoot rises as a force of almost Napoleonic ruthlessness, capable of murder on a moment’s notice. The director’s decision to avoid politics is a wise one, suggesting that such things are distractions from our own innate savagery.
Monos. Directed and co-written by Alejandro Landes. Starring Moises Arias, Karen Quintaro and Sofia Buenaventura. Opens Friday, Sept. 27 in Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox), Edmonton and Calgary, with dates to follow in Vancouver, Saskatoon and Regina.