A primal scream erupts in an undisclosed Latin American mountain range. In the shadows and the fog, in the political unrest actualized in the cacophonous echoing of spattering gun fire, are eight child soldiers. They are director Alejandro Landes’ Monos: a Lord of the Flies/Heart of Darkness allegorical epic film navigating Latin American mountains and jungles to bring a tale of disintegrating alliances and violent upheaval.
Equipped with rifles, the children of Monos: Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Lobo (Julian Giraldo), Leidi (Karen Quintero), Sueca (Laura Castrillón), Smurf (Deiby Rueda), Dog (Paul Cubides), Boom Boom (Sneider Castro), and Bigfoot (Moises Arias) – operate nearly autonomously, thriving in a lack of gender conformity, only receiving orders from their commander and a representative of The Organization Mensajero (Wilson Salazar). Here, in this stronghold they hold captive Doctora/Doctor Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson) – periodically filming her for proof of life and political ends.
The rag-tag adolescent fighting force, ranging from pre-teens to teens, spend their night carousing and causing mischief. They create large bomb fires – hooping and hollering as Jasper Wolf’s impenetrable smoky red cinematography envelops their silhouettes. With Mica Levi’s pulsating and alien score, Landes’ mountain tableau is a raw and rambunctious reverie of nature’s imposing and vast spectacle.
The troupe’s Edenic existence is only broken by a cow. Yes, a cow. Provided the calf by the local villagers – who safeguard this resistance force from the country’s authorities – in the group’s unrestrained celebration of two soldiers’ courtship, a mishap occurs with their bovine. They’re later attacked in their bunker by oppositional forces, which literally plunges the group from the mountains to the jungles in a continuous loop of treachery and mutiny. The bonds that once made them strong, soon fracture and the film transitions into a fight for survival. That is, a synergy between Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness.
Landes’ film transforms into a power struggle in the jungle, mirroring the larger political and militaristic battles surrounding the children. As Bigfoot becomes the troupe’s Kurtz-esque leader, imposing a brutal and savage domain, Doctor Sara Watson’s subplot of escape comes to the foreground. Her multiple breakouts mirror the individual soldiers like Rambo, who have become disenchanted by the group’s new self-cannibalizing power structure.
Monos concludes with separate hunts through the jungle. Each child’s acting, which is strong throughout, comes to the forefront in the film’s ending chapter (especially Arias). They provide an elevated animalisitic intensity to a paranoid and bloody sequence, which sees the encroaching of the outside world into this isolationist and rogue troupe. When Monos finds its escape – admittedly, the film could use a heavier editing hand during the languid jungle sequence – we’re not only given one of the best representations of why/how children become child soldiers since Beasts of No Nation, but a larger representation of how the weakest and youngest can become the victims of the continuous political turmoil that surrounds them.