Reel Critic: ‘Monos’

NEON

By Nathan Newbold

My impression of “Monos” (2019, directed by Alejandro Landes) can be best described by one of its most striking scenes: a band of teenage soldiers dragging the body of a cow across the beautiful high mountain fog. Having accidentally shot their one milk cow — their only apparent provider of sustenance — they string it up in front of a looming boulder and cut the meat off its bone. The stark contrast between the violence of the dead cow and the natural beauty around it is deeply unsettling in this gorgeously captured, albeit revolting, image.

“Monos” is a work of cinematic beauty. The camera lingers on the way the fog moves through the high mountains, the way the leaves of the jungle are pushed aside by a body moving quickly through them and especially the perpetually fascinating movement of water. 

However, this landscape becomes a playground for a “Lord of the Flies”-esque survival story about a group of teenage soldiers. The context for the perpetual war that this group, going by the name “Monos,” is kept intentionally vague. They are subject to some greater group known simply as the “Organization,” made clear by occasional visits by the “Messenger,” who makes the young soldiers run drills and give him reports on their activity. “Monos” also has a female engineer, a prisoner known simply as the “Doctora,” who is occasionally paraded around and forced to make video appearances to prove that she is still alive. At one point, the perpetual war surrounding them finally reaches their hideaway in the mountains, but the only glimpses we see of their larger society are more dying soldiers and destruction.

The movie’s real focus seemed to be the power dynamics of the “Monos” and the insular society these teenagers built in the theater of violence. They walk around the wilderness, shooting off their guns as an expression of power and frequently get into bloody wrestling matches that end in bruises and black eyes. But they also do things that you might find in any coming-of-age movie: they take hallucinogenic mushrooms, explore sexually desires, swim and laugh around the campfire. Unsurprisingly, the group succumbs to their violent environment, and the characters are picked off left and right over the course of the film. 

The final shot seems as though it is about to bring all the pieces into focus, but the screen cuts to black before any clarity is reached. 

My main problem with “Monos” was that it can be nearly inscrutable. It seems like an allegory for something, but some pieces are never fully introduced. The setting and cinematography turns it into a delirious fever dream that mashes up aspects of survival, war and coming-of-age films — it’s a movie worth watching for the visceral experience it provides. I was consistently engaged, but it left me emotionless by the end and I couldn’t help wishing it had offered up just a little bit more of itself.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.