A paramilitary group comprised of inchoate teenagers disintegrates in the jungle in Monos (Spanish for monkeys), an intense exploration of madness. An ill-conceived and frankly pathetic riff on films such as Aguirre: Wrath of God and Apocalypse Now, it’s one hundred minutes of noise, confusion, running, murder, and madness that seems purposefully designed to get on the audience’s nerves. Stay away from this film.
We start in the mountains, where The Organization is guarding a kidnapped American woman (Julianne Nicholson). From who and why, we never know. You could call it timeless, or you could call it another reason to be uninvolved; these kids are insufferable. With stupid names like Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Wolf (Julian Giraldo), The Swede (Laura Castrillón), and Boom Boom (Sneider Castro), they roll around in the mud and shout endlessly, pretend they’re animals, and shoot their guns into the air. They never talk to each other like normal people, instead, repeating each other’s video game names ad infinitum. Sometimes they have sex, but their hair is so short and the light is so dark you can hardly tell who’s shagging who.
The most egregious of the boys is Bigfoot (Moises Arias), a swarthy fellow with dreadlocks. When Wolf shoots their sacred cow in a drunken accident, much to the sadness of his partner, Rambo, Bigfoot takes over the gang, directly disobeying army protocol. Following an attack by an unidentified enemy, the group are on the run, taking their internal baggage with them. But it is not the enemy they have to fear… and so on and so on.
I can see what the filmmakers are trying to do with this film, but none of it works. What makes something like Lord of the Flies so affecting is that you get an idea of who these boys are before everything goes pear-shaped. Everyone here is annoying and emotionally stunted before it goes wrong, giving me no reason to care. I held out hope that we might get some kind of backstory to any of these characters, or maybe some context for the kidnapping, but there is no explanation. Or a theme. Or any feeling besides utter contempt for these characters.
Jungle narratives have always had a dear place in my heart — that journey into darkness, the total descent into evil, the way madness can wrap around the characters’ hearts and bodies and consume them. They also create a claustrophobic effect, making the action feel tense, as danger always seems to be lingering around the next corner. While the genre has thrown up some great works of art (and perfectly serviceable thrillers like Anaconda and Predator), done wrong it can be an over-stuffed, pretentious mess of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing. Monos is one of those films. It’s only briefly enjoyable when it falls into the genre; its cinematic ambitions are crap.
To be fair, the soundtrack by Mica Levi, composed of ear-splitting, wavy synths and whistling sounds, works perfectly well with the action; it’s annoying, shrill, never-ending, and headache-inducing. I would never criticize a film so rudely if it had noble intentions, but when it feels precisely engineered to give you a migraine, I can’t help but actively hate it. What a waste of a film crew. What a waste of my time.
The 69th Berlin Film Festival runs February 7, 2019 – February 17, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.