Wednesday, May 8, 2024

All You Have to Do Is Listen: Monolith (2024) Review

Director: Matt Vesely

Notable Cast: Lily Sullivan


There are ways to balance a budget for a film. Limited locations, limited characters, limited visuals. All of these are valid ways of telling a story as long as the creativity in its narrative can carry the weight of the film. Yet, it’s shocking how far Monolith takes it. One star. One location. And that’s essentially it. It’s about as minimalist as possible before someone starts filming in the void. And since it’s about a podcaster, one might argue that it does occur in the void. 


Still, as Monolith unfolds, it's strangely hypnotic following a journalist's investigation, played by Lily Sullivan, about mysterious black “bricks” that have been arriving at various people’s homes. Slowly (very, very slowly) but surely, the narrative adds subtle layers to its mystery. It’s a film that asks many questions, rarely provides answers, and loves manipulating the information provided to its audience through the questions the main character asks—or doesn’t ask. 


Monolith is told through the perspective of Sullivan’s journalist, who has taken a gig delivering conspiracy-focused podcast episodes after she loses her journalism position in the wake of a scandal surrounding one of her articles. Sullivan aptly anchors the film, providing another emotional and mounding performance after last year's horror thrill ride, Evil Dead Rise. She pulls off one of the most daunting tasks for an actor, providing most of the dialogue into a headset via phone calls. She only acts against one other live person in the film at the very end, and she ends up pulling that off horrifyingly. This is Sullivan’s show, and she handles it with absolute grace and delivers all the nuance and layers when necessary to imbue the narrative with the emotional resonance that it needs. 


The rest of the narrative is about the slow burn, long-take visual embrace of stillness, and the building unease of quiet. For a film that certainly feels like it's channeling the disturbing memories of the pandemic, Monolith manages never to feel like it's stalling. Instead, director Matt Vesely maintains this sense of pending disaster. Through the way that its lead character conducts interviews with various people and their building sense of unease around the titular ‘black bricks’ they encounter or the long takes of the suffocatingly empty house that Sullivan is working in, the film maintains a sense of impending dread that saturates its limited dialogue. If anything, it brings to mind some of the early work of Oz Perkins (notably his haunted house flick I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House), and that’s a massive compliment in terms of how Monolith handles its tonality. 


Monolith may not be a film for antsy film viewers. It’s meticulous, pondering its own mysteries and delving into the psychology (and psychosis?) of Sullivan’s character. In its own way, it feels like a film adaption of a radio play - smartly updated with modern elements like podcasts, the role of journalism, and a post-pandemic tonality. The film asks far more questions than it answers and for those willing to settle into its rhythm, Monolith is one of the year's most fascinating and impressive films. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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