‘Monos’ is an unorthodox teen spirit war movie
Directed by: Alejandro Landes
Written by: Alejandro Landes and Alexis Dos Santos
Starring: Sofia Buenaventura, Moises Arias, Julianne Nicholson, and Julian Giraldo
“Monos” – Writer/director Alejandro Landes’ picture, about eight teens manning a military post in the middle of nowhere, is a visual stunner.
The film heavily leans on the great outdoors and plays on sights, sounds and feelings rather than intricate storytelling. Sitting alongside the clouds, this camp resides on a mountainous, rocky swathe of terrain that must frequently see rain, because everything feels incessantly damp. Damp, like dewy grass in the morning, except this soaked state lingers throughout the day and night.
If your sneaker – along with your foot – ever accidentally fell into a puddle during at 9am hike at summer camp, you know the uncomfortable feeling of carrying a soggy wheel around all day. At best, “Monos” will make you relive that unpleasant memory, and at worst, the film will desperately call to your better angels, because the on-screen societal norms are in dire need of a massive yoga class. Please throw in a civics lecture for good measure.
During times of war, yoga and civics apparently have to wait.
The eight young soldiers, led by Wolf (Julian Giraldo), have heaps of time on their hands and no specific orders, other than to watch over their prisoner, a 40-something woman named Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). Not only is Doctora significantly older than her adversaries, but she’s also Caucasian, while the kids are persons of color. The differences between age and race are not explicitly called out, but both could be symbolic.
Although the teens have adult roles, their adolescence shines through the forced, imperfect masks of maturity, and when events do not follow the designed plan, these cracks become more pronounced and the grown-up shells are sometimes shattered. The parallels between “Monos” and “Lord of the Flies” are obvious, but these kids are tethered – albeit a thin line - to a military hierarchy, so hey, marching orders are marching orders.
During times of war, chaos sometimes reigns supreme.
Bigfoot (Moises Arias), who may be third or fourth in command, fills a leadership role through his own volition. As one can imagine, following his supervisors’ direction is not his first priority, and instead, satisfying his own warrior-id takes precedence.
Throughout the uncomfortable times, idle times, challenging times, and chaotic times, Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura) is the group’s moral compass, but this soldier’s message will only resonate if others look to it. Despite the name, Rambo is not the alpha but is the film’s protagonist. Curiously, Rambo is played by a young woman, but blurred pronoun lines, a short haircut, and a unisex wardrobe can bring our initial assumptions into question.
Much less uncertain is Alejandro Landes’ message about this society. In an early scene, Landes centers the young people – one at a time - squarely in his frame, as they run in place for training purposes. Conversely, in the third act, Rambo meets a family watching something mindless on television, so perhaps no matter who you are – fighting a war or sitting on the sidelines - we are all going nowhere.
During times of war, life might not have a purpose.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.