Monos is a drama film directed by Alejandro Landes – it follows the story of a group of young kids atop a large mountain on a secret mission. In this tale of childhood freedom and responsibility, we are whisked away into the rocky altitudes of Chingaza páramo in Colombia – a remote mountain top that sits at a literal breaktaking altitude. We follow alongside a gaggle of young kids, all at varying ages; all under the command of their leader, known as “Messenger” – he trains them, gives orders, and leaves them to attend to other duties. These young kids act as a sort of “task force” under an unknown chain of command. Are these kids terrorists, rebels, or nomads? Who really knows; but their duties throughout this story are simple; hold a hostage, protect a cow. Hilarious premise, but one taken with the utmost seriousness.
At its core Monos is a coming-of-age film – it’s a story about growth, responsibility, hierarchy and ultimately finding out who you are. Despite their freedom and nomad lifestyles, these kids are exposed to a suffocating weight and responsibility to bare. These are kids who are forced to grow up rapidly. It’s hard to truly put ones finger on what it is director Alejandro Landes is attempting to say here – it is equally possible that Monos is a tribute to what his destabilized country is doing to its youth, as it is a personal tale of growth from child to adult and how that line blurs.
With standout performances from Moisés Arias and Julianne Nicholson there’s rarely a dull moment throughout Monos, even if it takes time to heat up. Things begin to ramp up as the film reaches its midway point, as the group moves from the arid mountains to the dense jungle. This new change of location also marks a new chapter for the characters and their projected path of growth. Monos isn’t a film about the growth of a single person, it shows individual growth for each character in its own way. We get to see many characters evolve for better or worse, seeing how a singular upbringing can produce such varying personalities and varying conclusions for each individual. This is ultimately a story of change – nothing good lasts forever and sometimes change can be cruel.
Monos is not short on visual splendor. With cloud swept vistas that come and go like the tides, bringing dense fog, high winds, or an endless sheet of vapor that stretches into the horizon — its clear that cinematographer Jasper Wolf has a huge part of making this film feel like a cinematic experience. He embraces the gorgeous locations by capturing its perfect natural lighting to create sequences that feel more intense and intimate. The film has unusual compositions that are welcoming to the human eye and uses its camera too fully encapsulate the tone of the film. The small budget is shocking, as this movie looks expensive, especially with its action sequences and location scouting. An action sequence that follows a chase through a rocky river with huge rip currents seems far too dangerous to be real, but yet looks extremely convincing.
The location scouts have done an incredible job by selecting picturesque landscapes that are appropriate to its narrative and collaborate beautifully with the camera. The costuming for the kids in the film are impressive, accurately portraying what lost youth caught up in war may have looked like. The make-up for the kids in particular scenes work well, and further add to the intensity and supports the unsettling exploration of the human condition. Mica Levi composes an unnerving, eerie soundscape that transports you into the adrenaline-induced jungle nightmare that these kids are stuck in.
Monos takes the concept of childhood adventures, secret hideouts, and clubhouse initiations to a dangerous and riveting level – reminding us that any group is potentially only a few steps away from borderline cultism, mutiny, or collapse. Director Alejandro Landes has taken some significant strides at making this film a different breed from all the rest, and it shows. Monos has many “is that real?” moments – an accolade that few films get the chance to produce one. This isn’t a film I’ll soon forget. As visually breathtaking as it is narratively bemusing; Monos utilizes its creeping pace to represent how the passage of time changes and transforms us – for better or worse.