Written by Tom Button
Monos is co-written and directed by Alejandro Landes. It stars Sofia Buenaventura, Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias and Wilson Salazar.
This Columbian gem focuses on a small group of child guerrilla soldiers known as the Monos (‘Monkeys’) in the mountains who are tasked with protecting an American hostage (Nicholson).
They belong to a mysterious group known as the ‘Organisation’; whose motives are unknown at first. When the Messenger (Salazar) instructs them to bring the hostage into the jungle far below, the group fracture as they descend into a state of distrust and madness. The teens armed with military equipment, fight for survival in a world ravaged by a brutal civil war.
Buenaventura as Rambo, a lower-ranking soldier, is tough but somewhat timid. Like all the teens, war is all she has ever known. When she is thrown into a new world, her relationship with others fractures.
She is hardened by her environment, but when she is offered a chance at a better life, her childish side comes out. In these moments happen, her shyness is especially showcased in her body language, as she doesn’t speak much in the film.
Her physical performance is great, hitting different emotions like callousness and confusion. Her interactions with the group are minimal but important, which is hard to follow sometimes.
Nicholson as the American hostage, known as Doctora is interesting emotionally. At first, she is handled as just another soldier but as we know more about her, her character becomes more important. The role, like the others, is very physically demanding but Nicholson handles it gracefully.
Arias as Bigfoot, one of the top dogs of the group, has a charisma which is uncomfortable all on its own. There are moments when he bursts into verbal tirades which escalate into acts of torture and violence. It is a slow downfall but there are notes of his dark personality early on, increasing the audience’s investment in his character.
After he decides to take charge, he tries to control the group but does so by lashing out unfairly and berating them. By the end, his sanity completely slips, leading to some white-knuckle interactions.
A wonderfully diverse performance. If Bigfoot is bad enough, Salazar’s Messenger is worse. As soon as we are introduced to this hulking psychopath, he commands not only the kids’ attention but ours as well.
Salazar is unpredictable, and it’s uncomfortable whenever he’s on-screen. He tortures the soldiers until they collapse physically and mentally, and his constant insults push them to the very brink. A performance of this magnitude is very rare and makes the story harsher and more unreal. Salazar had my favourite role and the confidence and the way he carries himself is powerful. In short, the acting is brilliant, especially for this young and fairly inexperienced actor.
Landes has created one of the most magnetic and mesmerising films of the year, maybe of the decade. Together with cinematographer Jasper Wolf, he creates scenes of immense beauty and horror. The mountain the majority of the film is set on is shot impeccably. The colours pop and crackle on the screen.
Landes’ confidence in himself as a director and the child actors is almost symbiotic. How he could get these performances out of these children is unheard of and the patience it must have taken to prepare shots must have been incredible, especially when facing all sorts of weather issues.
The story unravels itself in an intricate mystery, leaving me open-mouthed at times. I was too enthralled by the shots to care what was going on and allowed me to discover things for myself.
Landes’ love for his country is palpable even though it is in the middle of civil war. The real-life connotations mix well with the fiction to create a grounded picture of guerrilla warfare. The score by Mica Levi is a baffling mix of radio signals, bird calls and heavy moments. The score underpins the story and soaks it in a deadly atmosphere. The score is one of the most unique I have heard in a long time and I loved Levi’s work here.
This adds up to be not just my new favourite of the year, but of the decade! It closes the last ten years of films with a disorientating explosion. The acting is terrific, the cinematography gorgeous and the direction is furious.
The film crackles with new energy, one that has been missing for a long time. Monos is a monumental achievement in cinema and proves Columbia is a force to be reckoned with.
Landes is an absolute star talent and his cast have some great futures ahead of them! I was completely captivated and bowled over by its audacity to break the rules of traditional cinema.
This film is a magical experience which begs to be seen on a big screen and, if it’s still around, I implore you to seek it out. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
Monos represents everything cinema was made for and blew my expectations out of the water. I cannot express my delight more plainly. Now, do yourself a favour and watch this immediately. It begs to be seen, to be believed!