Monos (MA) - 103 minutes
Westerners being kidnapped and held for ransom in Latin America has, unfortunately, become far too commonplace.
That is the starting point for a harrowing drama concerning a rebel group of teenage commandos – boys and girls – holed up on a remote mountain top.
There’s a total of eight of the anarchists, with names such as Wolf, Bigfoot, Rambo, Boom-Boom, Dog, Smurf, Lady and Swede.
They belong to a group called “The Organisation” and are all about military precision, answering to a diminutive commander – known as The Messenger – who rides in on his horse every now and again to bark orders and run drills.
Otherwise, they communicate via walkie talkie.
These are but kids wielding heavy machine guns. They fight and scrap and party. The way they "celebrate" a birthday is particularly disturbing.
Under their watch is an American engineer named Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson – I, Tonya), who is their prisoner.
At regular intervals, by way of proof of life, she is forced to speak to a video camera and read from a current newspaper.
The Messenger gifts the military unit a dairy cow – a temporary loan until the end of their mission – and they are told to protect the animal at all costs.
Only things don’t work out the way they were intended. Infighting causes ructions. Allegiances shift. Their situation becomes more desperate. Lives will be lost.
Monos is a stunning piece of work from writer and director Alejandro Landes, who wrote the screenplay with Alexis Dos Santos.
It is a visual treat, with the cinematography by Jasper Wolf capturing the natural beauty of the surrounds magnificently.
It is deeply disturbing that youngsters are in this position in the first place.
Put into decidedly adult circumstances, they are also discovering their sexuality, which comes into play more than once.
The captured American is desperate to escape her perilous situation, but is caught in an environment where her captors are far more familiar with their environment than she is.
Generally, the performances are strong.
The man who plays The Messenger was initially hired as a military consultant. He – Wilson Salazar, a man with dwarfism – was a child soldier at 11 and deserted when he was 24.
Landes took 25 youngsters on a boot camp into the Andes for four weeks before selecting those that feature in the movie. Most hadn’t acted before.
The exception was Moises Arias as Bigfoot, who was a regular in Miley Cyrus’ Disney series Hannah Montana.
A girl with close cropped hair – Sofia Buenaventura – is cast as a boy, Rambo, in the movie – a reflection of the role’s gender fluidity.
I knew nothing about the film beforehand and it quickly had me spellbound.
Monos shocks – just as it is supposed to. Landes has ensured lyrical elements are interwoven with the basic premise, giving it a surreal quality.
You may not like what you see, but once seen it won’t readily be forgotten.
Rated maMonos is quite a revelation and scores an 8 to 8½ out of 10.