On a remote mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow.

There’s been some really powerful cinema coming out of Colombia of late, namely the work of Ciro Guerra and ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ in particular, and ‘Monos’ (Spanish for Monkeys) is the latest to follow in that vein. A striking film about a child militia, it’s part ‘Lord of the Flies’ and part ‘Apocalypse Now’, blending the childhood isolation of the former and the eerie alien environment of the latter. It’s tense, unsettling and balances visually stunning sequences with insightful commentary on human nature when pushed towards its most basic of instincts.

The film is about a group of teenage soldiers who we first meet in a remote mountain setting in an unnamed part of South America. They spend their days performing military exercises, looking after a milk cow, and watching over a kidnapped American prisoner (Julianne Nicholson). Apart from one adult officer who trains them at the beginning, their only contact with outsiders is through a walkie talkie, where they receive instructions from a mysterious group known only as ‘The Organisation’. Who they are fighting for or against is unclear, nor important to ‘Monos’, which is more interested in what happens if you isolate a group of kids and provide them with weapons and a degree of power. It becomes more of an action film when the setting switches from the moutaintop to the jungle and presents a further opportunity to explore how these characters behave when challenged or threatened. Not to mention this also provides the setting for one scene which is as clear a homage to ‘Apocalypse Now’ as you’re likely to get. I found it to be a deeply engaging piece of cinema, thought provoking and definitely worth seeking out.

A vivid cinematic experience that combines a coming of age tale with a war movie, ‘Monos’ is a hypnotic and visually striking drama from Alejandro Landes, and it’s one to watch for the recently retitled ‘Best International Film’ at the Academy Awards next year.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Alejandro Landes

Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillon, Deiby Rueda, Esneider Castro, Paul Cubides, Wilson Salazar and Jorge Roman

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