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LFF Review: Monos / Little Monsters

Lupita Nyong'o in Abe Forsythe's Little Monsters
Lupita Nyong'o in Little Monsters

There are monsters, and then there are monsters! Here, on this fertile, bounteous planet, the monsters take a combative stance against the earth that gave them life, twisting and mutating that life into monstrous form and turning that stance against one another. It's a jungle out here, and it's of our own making - Mother Nature's original jungle she may reclaim in time, should we fail to turn toward one another once more in benevolence and compassion. Alejandro Landes does not explicitly query how the characters in his abstract, alternative war movie Monos got to this point, though you might. Is it an alternate reality, or a reality yet to become real? Is his startling vision a figurative one, as suggested by the little absurdities and surreal touches liberally sprinkled throughout, or a literal one, as inferred in a decisive third-act swing toward narrative development, fleshing out an initially odd, unclear premise with identifiable details? Your guess is as good as mine, and as worthless - Monos is compelling cinema on its own terms, the only terms it needs satisfy. It's an ambitious, innovative work of daring artistry, and its finest qualities ring out loudest when it's content to give them their own, defined space. Broaden those borders, blur those lines and it all starts to mean very little at all.

You see, there's not much substance to Landes' vision, and his attempts to draw some in feel forced, sourcing dissatisfying solutions to problems the movie never seemed to possess. The intrusion of plot, of clear forward motion into Monos' hermetic world disrupts its casually quirky, wholly distinctive spell, where each individual oddity had seemed to cohere into a marvellous whole of wonder and artistic invention. Primarily, the inadequacy of such conventional storytelling concerns is engendered by their essential ephemerality - in contrast, Monos is first and foremost driven by the style that forms precisely the substance it finally lacks, because substance is its most integral feature. There's a tremendous physicality to this movie, a sumptuous tactility, and its enamoured obsession with sensation in turn feeds the integrity of the premise, diverting attention away from sense and reason that its innately senseless, unreasonable developments may bear their peculiar, mysterious demeanour.

As with many young filmmakers striving to be noticed on the independent scene, Landes is a tad too aggressive with asserting his personal directorial style, but there's no denying the quality of work coursing through his movie. Jasper Wolf's dazzling cinematography embraces a seemingly unlimited range of colour across various environments. Mica Levi's score proves her peerless ability to render internal thoughts and emotions as outward musical expression, and the overall soundscape is deliciously rich in strange, beguiling features. Editing produces a distinct unpredictability that befits the meandering, shape-shifting plot quite nicely. And the cast of actors, mostly young performers making their debuts, is excellent, committing admirably to the unusual demands of Landes' design. They're asked to go to monstrous lengths here, and for vague, questionable purposes, but this level of excellence from cast and crew alike is worth a watch nonetheless.

There are monsters, and then there are more monsters! Little did Lupita Nyong'o know, I suppose, that when she signed onto a zombie comedy called Little Monsters, the zombies would be behind the camera, and all the jokes would be on her. I guess every genre nut has at least one high concept slice of low art they'd eat someone else's brains to get the chance to turn into a fully-fledged feature (with an Oscar winner, no less, on board!), though if they must insist on eating someone else's ideas, they could at least try to digest some of their technical competence too. Just some! Perhaps just a starter-sized portion? A snack? An after-dinner mint? Anything?

If there are movies out there for everyone, and if any movie possesses the possibility of appealing to anyone, it's by no means a criticism to state that Little Monsters is the perfect movie for a particularly immature 12-year-old boy. But if said particularly immature 12-year-old boy must have his cinematic appetite sated, there's no reason he couldn't do so with something better than this. For even on its own meagre terms, Abe Forsythe's Aussie horror comedy fails horribly, falling so far short of its countless influences as to almost draw shame upon them. Shame, however, is drawn directly onto anyone involved in making this stinker of a wannabe-cult item, and I'll be so obnoxious to deflect at least some of that shame onto anyone who enjoys it. Are you a particularly immature 12-year-old boy? If so, do grow up, and if not, do grow up.

I'm sick of scribbling out the same monotonous critiques of the same loathsome movies swinging every which way just to solicit some sort of redemption for their reprehensible heterosexual white manchild protagonists, so I'll bypass that here (save, naturally, to ensure I've mentioned it) and devote some more space to explaining just how incompetent Little Monsters is at taking those swings. There's virtually no commitment to sense, no diligence in the craft, as longueurs are taken to indulge in the most tiresome comic setpieces (almost entirely devoid of anything resembling good comedy, alas), while shortcuts are taken to drag the movie from one narrative marker to the next. Shoddily-executed horror violence and broad comedy are thrown in next to obligatory plot developments in a cacophonous mess of confusion, with key details overlooked, perspectives muddied, characters and subplots abandoned at random and a general air of "Fuck It!" pervading the whole enterprise. It's all too generic and overblown to earn any of the genre creds it so desperately seeks, assembled from second-rate rehashes of mediocre ideas. From the very first scene, chronicling a troubled relationship's messy, argumentative end, Little Monsters has the timbre of a movie conceptualized, written and directed by an alien masquerading as a filmmaker, hoping their earnest approximation of human behaviour is sufficient to fool this planet's native dominant species. Somehow, the masquerade seems to have fooled Lupita Nyong'o, but it's certainly not fooling me. I'm no particularly immature 12-year-old boy, and this is far from the perfect movie for me.

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