MONOS tracks a young group of soldiers living in a remote military outpost in the jungle, who have been tasked with keeping watch over an American hostage, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). After an ambush drives the squadron into the jungle, order within the group gradually gives way to chaos and the strong begin to prey upon the weak in a battle to survive.
Written and directed by Alejandro Landes, Monos is a chaotic and intense look at the forgotten in the midst of war. Described by Landes himself as a ‘fever dream’, the film echoes such classic stories as Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness through its erosion of civilization at the merciless hands of the jungle. Visually visceral in its approach, Landes’ direction exemplifies this slow decent into madness through his use of fractured narrative, dark and/or blurry scenes and an increasing use of cuts to brief moments of lust and chaos. What’s more, strong performances by an eclectic group of teens and Julianne Nicholson bring the survival drama to life by creating an environment of inescapable violence. In other words, MONOS doesn’t merely want to tell you about their descent into madness, it also wants to bring its audience into the moment themselves.
Beneath the chaos, MONOS speaks to the true nature of freedom, especially as society erodes around you. For instance, though they are technically under the ‘leadership’ of a faceless group known only as The Organization, the teens stationed at Monos have very little communication with the outside world. As a result, they frequently live by their own rules and jurisdiction, despite their immaturity. With little oversight, their group does what they please, until a misstep with their prisoner forces The Organization to step in and attempt to regain control. Having been left to lead only themselves, the youth understandably rebel, allowing their most base impulses to take over.
However, in doing so, the unit begins to come apart as teens begin to disagree about the boundaries of their own freedom. While some embrace hedonism and violence, others struggle. Though they can do anything they want, there still remains a piece of their soul that recognizes that true freedom still flourishes when basic boundaries remain. Whether it be recognizing right and wrong or simply recognizing the value of human life, some of the teens begin to move away from the chaos and search for civilization. In doing so, MONOS serves as a reminder that genuine liberty invariably requires some limitations in order to for life to thrive. By focusing on the erosion of society amongst these teens, the film offers an example of what happens when our quest for autonomy loses love and respect for one another in the process.
Wild and unflinching in its approach, MONOS is a relentless representation of what happens when civility is lost for the sake of personal freedom. Though revelling in the chaos, the film also argues strongly that society requires some boundaries in order to see humanity truly thrive.
To hear audio of our conversation with star Julianne Nicholson, click here.
MONOS attacks theatres in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto on Friday, September 27th, 2019.