I didn’t see Alejandro Landes‘ Monos (Neon, 9.13) during last January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award. Right away you’re thinking “okay, this guy has it.” Compositionally, impressionistically. William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies meets jungle-ritual cruelty and perversity. That line of country.
“Sporting names like Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Lobo (Julian Giraldo), Bum Bum (Sneider Castro) and Patagrande (Hannah Montana alum Moises Arias, hard-left-turning into gun-toting psychopathy), these youths and barely-teens are beholden to a mysterious rebel force known only as The Organization, which is conducting terrorist strikes against some ill-defined powers-that-be in South America.
“We first see these babyfaced subversives under the harsh tutelage of Mensajero (actual ex-guerrilla Wilson Salazar), a diminutive taskmaster instructing them in gunplay atop a stunningly cloud-shrouded mountain. The landscape is beautiful, and the temperaments hormonal. These are juveniles, after all, who are required to put adolescence on hold so they can become merciless killing machines. But no one can entirely stop them from acting out, and in increasingly violent and depraved ways.
“The film suggests Larry Clark‘s alternately hectoring and leering Kids (1995) as cast with bloodthirsty, horned-up child soldiers. Landes and cinematographer Jasper Wolf rarely miss a chance to ogle these stunted creatures as they paw at and demean each other, as well as tease and torture the American prisoner, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson, gamely trying for gravitas), who is a kind of shell-shocked Patty Hearst figure.
“The troop eventually descends into the jungle and their tenuous camaraderie breaks down Lord of the Flies-style. Landes here appears to be trying for an experiential and abstract fever dream — a film about revolution in which the lack of clear goals and ideology is entirely the point. (Mica Levi‘s unnerving score, which is one of the few creative elements above reproach, certainly helps with the sense of moral dislocation.) The kids can’t even take care of a cow properly, so how can they be expected to competently advance a nebulous insurgent agenda?”