Friday, February 16, 2024

Monolith: The Bricks are Out There

There is a tradition of “big dumb objects” in science fiction, best represented by the classic one in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This time around, they are technically little dumb objects, but they hold great mystery nonetheless. Of course, in this kind of sf, the objects usually turn out to be anything but dumb. In fact, the “bricks” a disgraced journalist investigates seem to be decidedly dangerous in Matt Vesely’s Monolith, which releases today in theater and VOD.

She is credited simply as “The Interviewer,” but most viewers will refer to her as the Podcaster. She was a journalist, but she was forced to resign in disgrace after accusing a prominent businessman of crimes without adequate evidence. Of course, the film thinks this makes her the victim, because slander should be fine, as long as your heart is in the right place, or something like that. After getting doxed, she retreated to her parents’ incredible modernistic luxury home, where she half-heartedly looks for stories to cover for a George Noory-ish podcast, the only media outlet that would still hire her. Then an anonymous email grabs her attention.

Based on the tip, she calls a complete stranger to ask about a mysterious brick that just turned up in the woman’s possession. Apparently, the former domestic’s employer sold it against her will to Klaus, an eccentric German art dealer, who has a collection of such objects. He discovered his own brick, which he believed was the source of his strange and unnerving hallucinations. His experiences were not unique. In fact, many people who encountered bricks suffered severe ill-health shortly thereafter, leading many to assume a causal linkage.

skillfully employs the isolated podcasting set-up to create claustrophobic tension in much the same way First Time Caller did, but Vesely’s film is more effective due to the superior sound design. As the Interviewer digs into the mystery, it evolves in many intriguing directions. It shares a possible plot twist with Bruce McDonald’s amazing Pontypool, which was also similarly constructed around an isolated radio studio, but admittedly, it has been a while since that film released.

Arguably, the way the story starts taking greater personal significance for the Interviewer is quite dramatic. However, it eventually goes in direction very much like Luke Sommer’s
Cellphone, but the recent horror film better executes its macabre climax.

Despite a wobbly finish,
Monolith is mostly a clever example of how smart sf can be realized with almost zero special effects. As the Interviewer, Lily Sullivan puts on a workshop demonstrating emotional fragility and obsessive-compulsive behavior. She is the only one on-camera, but there are some great voice performances, particularly the standout work of Terence Crawford as Klaus, who turns out to be the film’s most compelling character.

It is an inventive film, but Vesley does Lucy Campbell’s thought-provoking screenplay a disservice by trying to spin it into a class warfare polemic in the distributor’s press materials. Weirdly, this is a better, more watchable film than the director presents it to be. Recommended for fans of high-concept, lo-fi science fiction,
Monolith opens today (2/16) in New York, at the Village East.