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The Guardian called Monos “Apocalypse Now on shrooms” – a fitting description even if there isn’t an actual scene in the movie depicting our young soldier protags being ambushed in the middle of a mushroom-induced, ball-tripping stupor. Such hypnotic detours are frequent in the hallucinatory new thriller from Colombian director Alejandro Landes, which owes a significant debt to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in its cutting portrayal of power warping young minds. (In interviews, Landes describes Monos as a loose adaptation of the classic novel.)
In this vision, our feral ensemble are not castaways but teenage troops, posted on a remote mountaintop to safeguard both an American POW (Julianne Nicholson) and a milk cow named Shakira. In classic war movie tradition, everyone has swaggering monikers like Rambo, Wolf and Boom Boom. But, initially, there’s not an awful lot for these restless youths to channel their bravado into. In the place of warfare are bizarre rituals, horny hook-ups and campfire raves – at least until a tragic accident triggers a sudden, steep descent into chaos.
Landes offers us very little context about the surrounding conflict and largely avoids an overarching drive of plot, instead peppering the narrative with unexpected relocations and role reversals. As a result, the film holds a clammy fever-dream quality, aided by DOP Jasper Wolf’s sensory visuals and composer Mica Levi’s superb score. This is one of the festival’s most thrilling discoveries – a tense, off-kilter deep dive into corrupted innocence that never quite goes where you think it will. — JF