Monos follows eight teenagers with guns who are put in charge of looking after an American hostage.
Monos won Best Film at the London Film Festival earlier this month, won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and has been selected as Colombia's submission for the Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Oscars.
Monos - which means "monkeys" in Spanish - follows eight teenagers with guns who have been put in charge of looking after an American hostage named Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson), who they nickname Doctora, on a remote mountaintop on behalf of "the organisation".
These kids have no adult supervision and are left to their own devices, with weapons in tow, so it's only a matter of time before things go wrong.
When Dog (Paul Cubides) accidentally shoots their cow, squad leader Wolf (Julian Giraldo) is incapacitated and their location is rumbled, the group - now headed up by Bigfoot (Moises Arias) - are instructed to bring Doctora to a new location, which requires a trek through the dense Colombian jungle. During the trip, their loyalty to the mysterious organisation and each other is tested, while Doctora makes plans to escape.
It's impossible not to think of Lord of the Flies when watching Monos as it's about a bunch of teenagers who go wild while left to govern themselves in the wilderness. It is an unsettling and uncomfortable watch with loads of tension and a building sense of dread and chaos.
With the exception of Arias, who has been famous since he was a child for his role in U.S. TV show Hannah Montana, the rest of the soldiers are newcomers, with the majority getting their first acting credit, and they are all very natural. It almost feels like a documentary at times, just watching these teenagers play around and fight with each other. Of the newcomers, the most captivating was Lady (Karen Quintero), who switches her romantic interests depending on rank.
However, the star of the show was Arias - menacing as the mercurial Bigfoot - who lets his new leader status go to his head. Arias is best known as the adorable Rico in Hannah Montana and the gay best friend in Five Feet Apart, so this was a huge transformation and shows he has range. Nicholson also gives a solid performance as the desperate hostage. You sympathise with her and hope she manages to escape.
It's a shame that viewers are never given an explanation about the identity and the purpose of the organisation and why Watson was being held hostage. This keeps the mystery alive but is also unsatisfying.
The film takes a while to get going and felt very slow in the beginning, but that changes once the action reaches the jungle and it's so fast-paced and gripping that time just disappears. In fact, an extra 10 to 15 minutes would have been appreciated.
Monos features strong performances and some beautifully shot scenes and is unique and thrilling. It's easy to see why it has been receiving so many top honours.
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