Lord of the Flies was originally released in 1954, but a modernized retelling of such a landmark narrative in 2019 feels surprisingly relevant and topical. To label Alejandro Landes’ Monos as a loose adaptation of William Golding’s classic novel, however, would be a disservice to the filmmaker. The film is definitely its own beast, and stands out as an original piece of cinema with hints of high ambition from an emerging filmmaker.
Set in a dystopian world with no clear timestamp, the film follows a group of teenage guerilla soldiers roaming the jungles of Latin America. Taking orders from a strict commander (Wilson Salazar), they’re tasked with protecting a cow and hostage (Julianne Nicholson) as conflict arises within their own ranks.
From a visual standpoint, Monos is a film that is best enjoyed on a big screen. The colour palette used by cinematographer Jasper Wolf is so beautifully diverse, yet somehow avoids being over the top. The contrast between bright and dark never felt so natural and apparent, with more postcard worthy imagery than any non-documentary film I’ve seen in very long time. Being shot on location in a wide array of tropical and scenic environments certainly helps, adding to both the realism and beauty of the film.
Superimposed on top of the marvelous cinematography are the dark personalities and behaviours of these teenage guerilla warriors. Similar to Lord of the Flies, some of society's worst humanistic qualities are brought to light as the story progresses. It’s obvious that the film paints these characters as products of their distorted environments, but it also allows each of them to own up to their actions. At the end of the day, no excuses are made for both the good and bad behaviours, with the consequences being even more real.
And although the film isn’t overtly political, and often sidesteps any informative details that might pinpoint where exactly the film takes place, there’s a sense that Monos is meant to commentate on some of Columbia’s past (and present) political unrest. But even without that specific knowledge, as in my own case, the emotions of frustration and anger that these characters have towards each other and society as a whole are still clearly felt.
And that, is what makes Monos such a strong film. Its primary purpose is to examine the darker side of humanity, and paints a clear picture of how anger and hate tend to only breed those same qualities. The subtlety of the film’s storyline may frustrate some people, which to be honest, is not completely unfair. More clarity of the dystopian society and how we got to where we are would have added another layer of intrigue to Monos. But at the same time, the film isn’t angling to be a science fiction film. It’s working hard to be an examination of both society and humanity at large, and at that, it is certainly successful.
Monos will start screening in Toronto (at the TIFF Bell Lightbox), Edmonton and Calgary on September 17th; Saskatoon and Regina October 4th; Vancouver October 18th.