Monos review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Brimming with coming-of-age fury, Monos is the type of cerebral experience that boasts an unsure and cruel nature to that of loyalty and rebellion. The cast is an ensemble of young teenagers, located outside the bounds of society. They’re a close-knit group who survive on a primal extinct which rather than degrading into civility merely becomes a weapon of the dangerous. These teens do their growing up in the woods, armed with guns and bound by their urges under the distant gaze of authoritarian others. Growing up is already a tricky enough challenge in the civilized world that it’s made all the more complicated by the wilderness dwelling pack more focussed on who to have sex with, who to betray, and who to kill.
The eight teenaged guerillas are given very little. A squat commander visits occasionally and contacts them over the radio with instructions. The guerillas are placed in charge of a hostage adult woman as their duty to guard and gifted a cow as their means of nutrition with its milk. But the guerillas are only children and not as comfortable enough with themselves to properly handle this situation without going all Lord of the Flies on this situation. It doesn’t take long for the guntoting kids to accidentally kill their cow, leaving them to eat the meat and figure out who to blame for the incident.
The outside world seems so distant and even non-existent within the picture at times. We’re exposed to these teens through slow and troubling thoughts. They exercise with extreme motivation to be faster and tougher. They celebrate birthdays with beatings and laughing. They party the night away around a fire with tribal shouts. They experiment with kissing in comfortable and explorative ways. Even attempts by the kidnapped doctor to understand them is an act of awkward confusion. She at one point attempts to reason with one of the girls that can she can help get them on television if she is freed. The doctor tries to show affection but this is misinterpreted as the erotic by the child and irks the doctor. The child merely laughs. It’s all just a game, even when guns are involved.
The tension continues to mount as some of the teens take note of their superiors and decide to stage their own cout. If they believe themselves worthy enough in combat, they figure why they even need someone to take orders from. Some doubt they can pull off such a stunt while others go along with the striking out to fulfill their desires. Some get what they want while others are tortured. Some survive while others do not.
The film takes an interesting route of trying to find some place for the teens as they ascend into adulthood. One ventures off on his own and discovers a family living in the jungle. He is taken in, fed, given a place to sleep, and has plenty of children to play with. It’s a nice life, but can it last? This is questioned not just because of the boy’s past but for how he is targeted by the rest of the group. A brutal pack mentality threatens his very existence. The violence only mounts when the children realize they’re losing a grip on loyalty, yet they’ve lost control of far more than that.
Monos was directed by Alejandro Landes with great care of letting us peer into the minds of youth bound by war and primordial in their wants. The tension and reveal of the situation mounts ever higher that by the final frame we’re left with a difficult question: What’s to be done with the teenagers that pursued a dark path? Is there hope for them? Can they find a way back? More importantly, however, will we let them? These are not easy questions in a film that is tough to watch yet speaks with such introspective intelligence it’s impossible to not be moved.