FrightFest Review: MONOLITH
All you have to do is listen
Chamber pieces and one-hander performances are often the most viable (and logical) approaches to making a first-time feature. Australian writer/director Matthew Vesely’s debut, Monolith, is just one of those films; not only staged with mystery and intrigue but also held together by a relatable actor who commands her space and the screen for 90 minutes. Last seen in Evil Dead Rise, ‘rising’ star Lily Sullivan manages to build a nameless character stripped of her role as a journalist as she now begins to claw at stories for an investigative podcast ‘Beyond Believable’ — “A show that unmasks the mysteries.” As she rattles around in her monolithic home ‘The Interviewer’ begins to uncover a series of interconnected stories surrounding a strange artefact that may (or may not) be linked to an alien conspiracy… a conspiracy that begins to further question her integrity… and the lies at the heart of her own story.
Full of symbolism — from the codes The Interviewer attempts to unlock to her turtle in his tank — themes of isolation and containment are also prevalent throughout, until (without giving anything away) the film begins to lean more heavily towards the sci-fi tropes we have seen before. In a similar way to Denis Villeneuve — most notably Enemy and Arrival — Vesely — even though shackling himself with minimalism — seems to (literally) build with bricks taking his time to understand narrative devices and the language of film instead of throwing too much at the wall. Obviously, there is a lockdown-vibe to the production — a major conspiracy some would believe we have all lived with collectively for the past three years — but Vesely’s film may be attributed to more than this; clearly influenced by similar films that have used small casts, single locations, and the use of sound to portray the ‘alien’ nature of evolving media and its technology.
Watching you will be reminded of Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool, and even a couple of ’70s and ’80s classics such as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio. At the centre of all these films rests the paranoia of deeply flawed characters, some of which, in their sheer arrogance, lash out at the world with the power of the media. Here The Interviewer unravels as much of the mystery she is beginning to solve as interviewees push her buttons; a reminder of the wealth and materialism she has accumulated; “People like you feed off the world.” Early on, after we witness her official statement involving the attempted cancellation of a high-profile figure, we hear the flippancy — a mere warmup exercise before recording — “This is a clickbait podcast made for bored lonely ballbags with IQ levels below a lobotomised monkey. Enjoy.”
All these moments are littered throughout — Sullivan’s performance exercising something less bloody and physical this time round — asking us whether The Interviewer’s work is about the people or her own ego… her own identity. And so, Vesely focuses on subtle responses — the majority of which is to other voices — the camera often close on Sullivan and, when not, hanging above or framing the actor against a surprisingly muted backdrop, devoid of the sun and barren landscape one would expect from Australian cinema. Expect nothing. Go with it. The final act may be frustrating for some, but — as with any good slice of sci-fi — should provide just enough for most wanting to decipher on repeat viewings… along with the study of a brilliantly isolated performance.