Premiering at this year’s Sundance, MONOS (meaning ‘monkeys’) is an original enough film that draws from Lord of the Flies but filmed in Colombia. A commando group of youth train in the jungle while given the task of looking after an American hostage by their chief. Thing go south when the cow they have borrowed is killed and the hostage escapes.
There is something inherently beautiful to see male bodies tugging at each other during military training. Famed French director Claire Denis realized this and her film BEAU TRAVAIL has an image of topless men in combat – a very homoerotic image. This image is repeated 20 minutes into MONOS with half naked men (youths in this case) fighting each other. But the recruits on training her are of both sexes, so naturally there is some making out between male and female (of the characters Wolf and Lady, which they celebrate.
Looking at youth reacting to war and chaos has been a fond subject in English literature as evident in the bestseller Lord of the Flies, where a group of boys stranded on an island start up their one rules for survival. MONOS holds intrigue for the identical reason but in an ambiguous war setting.
The setting is on a remote mountain in Latin America. The film tracks a young group of soldiers and rebels — bearing names like Rambo, Smurf, Bigfoot, Wolf and Boom-Boom — who keep watch over an American hostage, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). The teenage commandos perform military training exercises by day and indulge in youthful hedonism by night, an unconventional family bound together under a shadowy force known only as The Organization.
The script (co-written by Landes and Alexis Dos Santos) does not give details of what the group MONOS is fitting for or where the hostage is coming from. These lack of details undermine the authenticity of the plot. Director Landes does not favour any singular one of the rebels. Each react more with their instincts than their brains. Anyone of the revels can turn violent and kill, including the American hostage who ends up killing a rebel.
The musical score by Mica Levi is accompanied with non-musical sounds which creates an eerie environment. The landscape of the jungle (fog hovering around the mountain tops; thick rain clouds) and the river waters is stunning, credit to cinematographer Jasper Wolf.
The film takes a more violent turn after an ambush drives the squadron into the jungle, both the mission and the intricate bonds between the group begin to disintegrate. Order descends into chaos and within MONOS the strong begin to prey on the weak in this vivid, cautionary fever dream.
MONOS opens with a special week long engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The film has already played at many film festival receiving accolades of praise. MONOS is also Colombia’s entry for Best Foreign Language film for the next Academy Awards.