Film review: Monos is a boisterous, beautiful beast of chaotic energy

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★★★★☆

The new film from Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker Alejandro Landes sees a set of young guerrilla soldiers with a hostage entangle themselves deeper and deeper into trouble.

Atop a mountain landscape the “Monos”, eight young soldiers referred to by their noms de guerre, have the task of looking after an American captive, whilst also performing military exercises and milking a cow. It’s unsure as to why any of this is taking place. There is seemingly some kind of conflict going on outside of the Monos’ apparent base, but why they’re training and why they have a captive is somewhat of a mystery.

Just a few minutes into the film a small, ripped man turns up. He barks orders, authorises a relationship with grouper leader Wolf and his granted lover Lady and gives the group a cow. For whatever reason this cow must be taken great care of and milked. “Why must you milk a cow?” asks the man rhetorically, “So that it doesn’t explode”. This lie delivered with military order and certainty gives the impression that these young people with semi-automatic machine guns are being taken advantage of.

Left to their own devices the Monos get drunk, fight and exude a general animalistic boisterousness that is somehow endearing. However, their naive blend of military duty and general hedonism is a recipe for disaster, and when one particularly unfortunate incident snowballs the cracks appear to show in the outfit.

They expose their incompetence and selfishness and confound themselves into a cult-like state of distrust. In the pursuit for some kind of compromise for all of their safety and the loyalty to their mission they find themselves in an ever-growing disaster that can only lead to a grab for power, or a way out.

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There is also an interesting set of gender and sexual politics at play here. Actress Sofia Buenaventura plays 15 year old Rambo, someone consistently referred to with male pronouns. There’s a general fluidity in how the youngsters present themselves, and in the way they all seemingly want to cop off with one another. One scene in particular holds quite a sadistic sexual energy in the spanking and whipping of Rambo on his fifteenth birthday in place of birthday digs. It’s a film whose feral nature is inherently sexual.

Landes brilliantly frame how different personalities adapt to such situations without ever suggesting that there is ever a character with more clarity than another. This absence of knowing each characters motivations leaves you in a state near constant anxiety. Just when we think we may follow someone down a path we can agree on we find ourselves spun back around and sometimes taken deeper into the nightmarish landscape.

What’s more is that you never can know what is best for anyone. What are they even fighting for? Are they a politically driven para-military group? Are they rebels against an oppressive state? It’s impossible to grasp what the aim is for the group let alone align yourself with their decisions and ideas.

Through this hideous journey though, you cannot help but be wowed by the craft involved here. The capturing of the opposing landscapes is really something to behold. The stunning, misty vistas of the mountain feel almost divine with their large, erect boulders and cliff edges touching the clouds. Then, once the thrilling chase to find a remedy for the group’s ailment is underway, we find ourselves trapped in the barbed wire-tightness of the dense jungle.

None of this is helped to feel any less maddening by a trippy shroom scene and Mica Levi’s whooshing, propeller-like score. Short, sharp whistles followed by a churning of sounds something close to a bunch of classical instruments and synthesisers trying to start the engine of a helicopter.

Monos isn’t without error though. 15-20 minutes of the unrelenting confusion could perhaps be lost to maintain the wild energy that it possesses, but it cannot be denied that this a beast of a film.

Monos is in cinemas nationwide now. You can book tickets to see it at The Electric in Birmingham right here.

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Harry Jones

Long and incompetent man who is being allowed to write about films you can watch from your bed.