As we have been told across filmic media for years, “The truth is out there”, and referencing the tagline for The X-Files feels more than appropriate when discussing Matt Vesely‘s science-fiction leaning chiller Monolith, an intimate, isolated feature that flirts with the notion of an alien invasion without complete penetration.
Such a tease.
An incredibly simple set-up, Monolith centres around Lily Sullivan‘s unnamed podcaster – credited as “The Interviewer” – who’s in something of recovery mode following a story that has potentially sunk her career. Because her personal address has been leaked, The Interviewer seeks solace in the nestled nature of the vast green scenery that accompanies her parents’ architecture-porn-like estate, hoping that the quiet will allow her to focus on her podcast and that its pervasive popularity will be enough for her to weather the current storm.
Said podcast is titled “Beyond Believable”, and it’s her conversation with a woman named Floramae (Ling Cooper Tang, unseen) that pushes the film’s intricate, bizarre narrative forward. Tipped off by someone of expected shadowy nature, The Interviewer’s phone call to Floramae is bathed in a certain hostility, and the story relayed – an odd tale surrounding her former employment as the cleaner to a well-to-do family and the mysterious black brick that arrived and subsequently ruined her life – starts to duplicate in familiarity the more The Interviewer investigates.
Conversations with a German art dealer (Terence Crawford) and a British journalist (Brigid Zengeni) bring about further findings regarding this mysterious brick, with the former suggesting his findings uncovered an alien language inscribed, and the latter indicating an international cover-up. It’s career jackpot-type stuff for The Interviewer, but she also can’t help but think how terrifying it all is given the lengths people are going to to make sure this news isn’t public domain.
But then she wouldn’t be that good at her job if she let such concerns derail her, and whilst The Interviewer may be practicing some unethical notions in her research, screenwriter Lucy Campbell leans into our own journalistic instincts as we, ourselves, are likely to push the boundaries of our obsession with podcasts and their deep-dives into the unknown. Of course, The Interviewer having already gotten herself into such a professional mess means she should probably know better, but there’d be no “fun” if she learnt her lesson, and Monolith has as much fun as possible in building an uncertain atmosphere across its tight, claustrophobic 94 minutes.
Where Vesely, Campbell and Sullivan take you is best left unknown – and it has to be said how much of a force Sullivan is here – and combined with the icy cinematography of Michael Tessari, Monolith culminates with a menacing temperament that delights in a certain ambiguity. To some it may be a little too abstract, and to others it may not explore the story’s potential enough, but it’s never less-than-gripping, thanks to an across-the-board commitment that beautifully showcases what can be achieved when creativity outweighs budgetary restrictions.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Monolith is screening in select Australian theatres from October 26th, 2023.