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In movies, the car is perhaps the greatest non-human ‘actor’, made to move really fast, to talk, to kill, to fly, and to even go back to the future. They offer style and establish characters and transport us through stories by helping define who these people are. And sometimes, they are the very reason a film exists.
With Monolith, a car is, despite a small human cast, the real star of the film in a sense, a character with an arc all it own, and perhaps the most screen time. It is designed to be a sort of tabula rasa, its shape and color a block of metal black that appear featureless despite the myriad options within. Those features are both what keep the driver and passengers incredibly safe and, as one woman learns, reasons for being a living, breathing nightmare.
Opening with a highly-convincing advertisement, we learn about the ‘Monolith’, a car that is finally, the safest vehicle ever made for the average consumer, a virtual small-body tank with state-of-the-art safety features that include bullet-proof glass, an on-board driver assist program, and a thing called ‘Vault Mode,’ which locks the car down into an impenetrable fortress. All of this seems like the perfect car for young mother Sandra (Katrina Bowden) and her toddler son David (Krew and Nixon Hodges) until it all backfires on a barren stretch of road in the desert when a series of circumstances shuts Sandra out with her son inside. With no way in, she must face the horrors of being unreachable and helpless while the hours tick by.
Directed by Ivan Silvestrini, Monolith is part and parcel to the lone survival genre, basically a lost-in-the-desert story where one must come to terms with who they are and undergo the necessary transformation to make it through to the other side. Sandra is a former pop star, a one-hit wonder girl who gave up her stardom to marry a record producer (Jay Hayden) whom she now suspects is not faithful, leading her on this journey in the first place. Her doubts about the choices she’s made and the ever-increasing paranoia that crushes in, leave her an already jittery state, and the desert forces her to reckon her life as a parent and a person.
The story is in many ways a treatise on man versus technology and the limits we face in the boundaries they, by design, establish. A child in danger is the perfect metaphor for such a statement though Silvestrini uses this only as a prop to expose the larger symbolism of regret and responsibility, forcing Sandra to consider what her priorities are and reshape her destiny. From wild dogs to fire to high cliffs, she is surrounded by tests of nature, to commit to an act that is by definition the very worst a mother could do but by the rules of the film, a sacrifice she must make.
Bowden is the whole show here, a one-woman tour-de-force who carries the film, one that admittedly loses a bit of momentum as it progresses to an oddly unconvincing finale that becomes more about the meaning of it all than maintaining believability. Still, there is a lot of good leading up to this, with a genuinely cool car and concept. A strangely 80s-esque synth score seems a little out of touch with the action, but otherwise, for a descent thriller and a solid performance, Monolith delivers.
Movie description: Monolith is a 2017 thriller about mother and her young son in the aftermath of a terrible car accident in the middle of nowhere.
Director(s): Ivan Silvestrini
Actor(s): Katrina Bowden, Jay Hayden, Brandon W. Jones
Genre: Drama, Thriller