This twisted take on Lord of the Flies is a descent into chaos and one of the year's strangest films
Why do we go to the movies, if not to experience the truly weird and the truly mad? Monos is both. It’s Lord of the Flies dialled up to eleven (or twelve, or thirteen…), a twisted spin on William Goldman’s classic novel based in some apocalyptic near-future in which Ralph, Jack, and Piggy – or should that be Rambo, Lady, and Swede? – wield semi-automatic rifles with careless abandon and spend their afternoons getting high on magic mushrooms.
Unlike the boys-only island of Goldman’s story, the kids here are both male and female. Isolated high above the clouds on a misty mountain, their unit of uniquely-named child soldiers have developed strange rituals and bizarre customs, recalling the weirdo siblings of Yorgos Lanthimos’ cult favourite Dogtooth. Tasked with guarding a lone prisoner, they pass the time playing football blindfolded and practicing kissing. When one member falls for another, it’s their mentor – a dwarf who turns up occasionally to lead them in intense training sessions – who must approve the union.
What? Why? How? Who cares? No use looking for answers in a film in which the arrival of a cow sets off what little excuse for a plot Monos actually has. Then there’s the plight of the unfortunate doctor, played by Julianne Nicholson, taken hostage for a ransom that never feels at the forefront of anyone’s mind. As she observes – and occasionally joins in with – her captors, dreaming of escape, Monos splits into two distinct halves. The first zeroes in on the children and their daily routines and interactions. Later, after a firefight breaks out, the action shifts to the oppressive heat of an unforgiving jungle. It’s here that things take a truly primal turn.
The story unfolds with an ominous, world-ending atmosphere, emphasised by an erratic musical score and gorgeous, swooning cinematography that often (and ironically) makes this hellish vision of the future look like the most beautiful place on Earth. Later, as things fall apart, events unravel almost at random. The film has no allegiance to any particular narrative thread, or any particular character. It’s unfiltered chaos that Monos and its writer/director, Brazilian filmmaker Alejandro Landes, appear most interested in.
It’s one intoxicating ride, akin to falling head first into a well of darkness that – despite its obvious influences – transcends its origins to become a unique nightmare of its own making. Still, as the walls begin to close in on our crazed band of guerrillas (Monos, incidentally, means “monkeys”), Landes can’t resist one final nod to Golding: a close-up shot of a pig’s head, covered in flies, impaled on a spike. The Lord has spoken. The day of reckoning is here.
By: Tom Barnard
Get Monos showtimes in London.
This film was screened to the press as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. For more information and showtimes for this year’s festival, head to our dedicated page.
This post was categorised in Reviews.