DramaFilmReview

Monolith

David Cunningham

Writer: Lucy Campbell

Director: Matt Vesely

The covid pandemic is never mentioned in Monolith but its spectre hangs over the film. After all, the film features a single character, forced into isolation and communicating with other people over the telephone or via social media. Like many of us during lockdown the sole character, unnamed and referred to as ‘The Interviewer,’ has let her appearance slide, slopping around the house in unflattering over-large sweaters without make-up. However, far from being a documentary or social commentary, Monolith is a highly satisfying and deeply creepy horror film.

When a journalistic exposé crashes and burns The Interviewer (Lily Sullivan) is made a scapegoat and loses her job. She goes into hiding and is forced to accept demeaning work hosting ‘Beyond Believable’ a clickbait podcast she mutters to herself is suitable for only for listeners who have IQs lower than lobotomised bored monkeys.

An anonymous e-mail puts The Interviewer on the trail of a mysterious ‘black brick’ which is received by random people who refuse to discuss the manner of its receipt and report it is oddly compelling but has sinister effects. These include provoking extreme passions like jealousy or suicidal thoughts. But there are also physical manifestations of guilt or regret- the ghost of an illegitimate child or an art collector being haunted by a grotesque creature he believes is the ghost of his late brother who, he acknowledges, he wished dead. For The Interviewer, the black brick offers the seductive temptation of a story which will redeem her reputation but there is the growing fear she may be the next victim of the mysterious Monolith.

Director Matt Vesely avoids horror movie cliches. The setting is not a spooky, dark house but a spacious modern dwelling and, rather than causing unease with dark shadows, the mood is remote and chilly with steely grey colours setting a stark, isolated atmosphere of growing paranoia. The victims of the Monolith never appear in the film, their stories are told over the internet or telephone and unfold against scenes of empty corridors and abandoned offices.

The manner in which the Monolith is finally delivered to The Interviewer is closer to the biological horror of David Cronenberg or H.R. Giger than the usual movie scare. The occasional ‘traditional’ horror feature- a cloud in the shape of the black brick appears over the house- come, therefore, as a complete surprise. Inevitably at the conclusion the threat moves towards physical rather than the restrained psychological menace which dominates the movie, but even then, the struggle is for identity as much as survival.

Lucy Campbell’s script is unsettling, a series of hints and rumours very much in accord with the paranoid mood which developed during the covid pandemic. There is the suggestion the Monolith may be the source of a neurological illness – a viral disease communicated through sound- as symptoms develop after victims hear rumours of the black brick. The unexpected revelation of the relationship between The Interviewer and one of the victims is both startling and dramatically satisfying.

Although a number of actors make vocal performances the movie is carried by Lily Sullivan. She gives a selfless performance as the flawed protagonist avoiding any sign of glamour and, more importantly, allowing The Interviewer’s moral compromises – taping conversations after promising not to do so- to gradually become apparent. As Sullivan is the sole visible performer, and her approach to the role becomes increasingly desperate, there is the nasty possibility events in the movie are taking place in The Interviewer’s mind as she struggles to adjust to guilt and moral ambiguity. After lockdown most of us will acknowledge isolation can prompt extreme actions.

Monolith is a highly original horror movie, and, after lockdown, audiences are bound to be able to relate to a character suffering through a nightmare in isolation.

Monolithis on digital platforms 26 February.

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Nightmare in isolation

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