(director/writer: Alejandro Landes; screenwriter: Alexis Dos Santos; cinematographer: Jasper Wolf; editors: Yorgos Mavropsaridis, Ted Guard, Santiago Otheguy; music: Mica Levi; cast: Julianne Nicholson (Doctora), Wilson Salazar (The Messenger), Moisés Arias (Bigfoot), Sofia Buenaventura (Rambo), Jorge Roman (Buscador de Oro), Deiby Rueda (Smurf), Karen Quintero (Lady), Laura Castrillon (Swede), Julian Giraldo (Wolf), Paul Cubides (Dog), Sneider Castro (Boom Boom); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alejandro Landes, Fernando Epstein, Santiago Zapata, Cristina Landes; NEON; 2019)

“Plotless, atmospheric, grim and exciting nihilist thriller about child soldiering and surviving warfare.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Brazilian-born but Colombian-based filmmaker Alejandro Landes (“Porfirio”/”Cocalero”) co-writes (with Alexis Dos Santos) and directs this plotless, atmospheric, grim and exciting nihilist thriller about child soldiering and surviving warfare. It tells of a visiting American female engineer called by her captors Doctora (Julianne Nicholson) being held captive (for unexplained reasons) by teenage guerilla bandits in the remote mountaintop of some unnamed South American country, supposedly like Bolivia or Columbia, while her small child is also held captive but somewhere else. It projects itself as a film that is themed between a subversive Apocalypse Now and a Lord of the Flies flick, whose chilling climax also leaves us with answers we don’t want.

Monos translates as monkeys and is the name given to a band of crazed teenage guerrilla bandits, who are formed into a paramilitary unit and are treated like animals. They have sworn allegiance to the shady something military group called The Organization, and are periodically visited for training purposes by their hard-ass basic training drill instructor, the diminutive Messenger (a real ex-guerrilla, Wilson Salazar).

They are hiding in a remote muddy mountain retreat awaiting orders from their unseen shifting high command, who deliver their commands on radio. The restless undisciplined gang (given no backstory) while waiting for their nefarious assignment are given a cow to care for (which they kill when drunk), kill time by firing off their semi-automatic weapons, play soccer while blindfolded, invent bizarre rituals to follow and have sexual encounters among themselves. They have discarded their given names and all eight have colorful nicknames like Smurf (Deiby Rueda), Lady (Karen Quintero), Swede (Laura Castrillon), Dog (Paul Cubides), Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Wolf (Julian Giraldo), Boom Boom (Sneider Castro) and Bigfoot (Moises Arias). 

The Monos take their shell-shocked female hostage with them when ordered to go into the jungle. She enrages them by trying to escape, and in the process the radio is smashed. In such chaos, the entire unit goes rogue, with the film’s probable protagonist Rambo reaching safety for a while in the home of a rural family. But the chaos only intensifies, making things seem like a nightmare with no end in sight. Added to this weird feeling of being lost is the uniquely un-melodic throbbing background New Age timpani music of Mica Levi, picking up in intensity as things go out of control (whose unsettling music alone is reason enough to catch the movie).

The resolution to this dark allegory, which is perhaps a look at the possible future where children won’t be allowed to be children anymore, leads us through a strange movie experience. It’s one that you better just take in and not get too worked up about how fucked are these mindless revolutionaries. They’re depicted as also victims of a society they despise, not knowing how to behave right because they never were taught that (there’s no mention of parents).

Monos by Alejandro Landes at Berlin
          Film Festival film still

REVIEWED ON 9/19/2019       GRADE:   B+