Trieste 2016 Review: MONOLITH, Motherhood Locked Out
High-concept films are generally the norm for any movie falling into the sci-fi category. Often, such concepts result in a film that focuses more on action and fancy effects; sometimes, the high concept is used to examine one or a few characters and how they react in extreme situations. Monolith is one of the latter, choosing to look at one woman's actions and emotional reaction in a life-threatening crisis. Ivan Silvestrini's feature film isn't always successful, but it follows in the steps of other films to look at how women experience motherhood in different ways, not always positive.
Sandra (Katrina Bowden) is a former pop star, now married to her former producer Carl (Damon Dayoub) with whom he has a young son, David. Sandra loves her son, but is not necessarily happy that her career was put on hold, especially as she suspects her husband is having an affair with a new rising star. She decides to surprise him by driving with her son to Los Angeles in the Monolith, a new super car with an amazing security system and a fancy AI program. A series of unfortunate events leaves Sandra locked out of the car when it is fully secure and with her son inside; if she can't get back in, her son will die.
Like recent films The Babadook and Under the Shadow, Monolith examines the myth that all women are natural mothers. Sandra might love her son, but she clearly doesn't love the life she now lives. An encounter with some young, obnoxious people at a gas station emphasizes how distant she is from the free life, how constricted she feels, and also how unprepared she still feels in her role as mother. It's not a big jump to see the Monolith car, and the AI software that runs it, as a metaphor for a society that claims to help and support mothers, but also is quick to criticize them for anything they see as a misstep. No mother can live up to impossible expectations, and even before she is locked out, Sandra is constantly made to feel far less than perfect.
The series of events that lead Sandra to the middle of the desert are perhaps a bit sloppy (bending how humans would actually behave in order to force a narrative event). At this point, the film must rely solely on Sandra to tell its story, as she must find a way to open up the car. Throughout the film, Bowden is fine, though not extraordinary (this isn't helped by some rather pedestrian dialogue and the need for her to talk too much, rather than let the story play out in action). But talking to herself isn't an option for the second half of the film; action must be the point. And while the film does start to drag a bit, it's not uninteresting.
With her cellphone trapped in the car with her son, Katrina takes the necessary if difficult steps: trying to pry open the windows, walking to any semblance of civilization to try and found help (though she never calls the police, which, is you're desperate enough, I'd think you would do), and her final act is something so extreme that it almost makes up for waiting for a bit of action. Considering the high-concept scenario, an increase in the physical activity would have livened up the second half; as it was, I often found my mind wandering.
Overall, Monolith is a solid film, even if its drifts, and Bowden isn't quite as strong as the role would dictate. But it's an interesting perspective on the difficulties of motherhood, and definitely a clever use of high-concept metaphor.
- Ivan Silvestrini
- Elena Bucaccio (screenplay)
- Roberto Recchioni (story)
- Stefano Sardo (screenplay)
- Ivan Silvestrini (screenplay)
- Mauro Uzzeo (screenplay)
- Katrina Bowden
- Brandon W. Jones
- Jay Hayden
- Damon Dayoub