It seems that — at least in the past few years — a considerable number of films have proven their ability to manifest new sensibilities for the sonic and aural aspects of cinematic art. From Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria to Todd Field’s Tár, and from Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi to an indie sci-fi like Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night, an audience can easily discern how any of these films’ endeavors, through their uniquely singular strategies, enrich one’s filmic experience in terms of audiovisual exploration. In the same manner, Matt Vesely’s debut feature Monolith is a deliberately thought-out work that immediately exhibits a clear concern for its soundscape. Following an unnamed journalist (portrayed by Lily Sullivan, who merely gets credited as “The Interviewer”), who after taking refuge in her parents’ remote house decides to run a podcast (named Beyond Believable) with a special focus on extraterrestrial theories and government conspiracies, the Australian mystery-horror showcases a peculiar formalism right from the start. With Sullivan as the sole on-screen actress, and surrounded by the unruffled and minimalist spaces of the house she’s inhabiting, Monolith shapes its narrative via the Interviewer’s conversations over phone calls and emails, investigating a puzzling story about an undefinable and bizarre black brick. Through each online and otherwise distanced interaction, not only is the audience able to fill in the bigger picture of this weird, rabbit-hole story, but more importantly, they get a chance to attend to the auditory fabric of the film, all while patiently observing Sullivan’s marvelous performance, largely built upon excellent, reactive facial gesturing that ushers us into her headspace.
Perhaps it makes sense, then, to consider Monolith as akin to Kiarostami’s Shirin, only in reverse — if the latter’s narrative shaped itself via the facial reactions of various women to a single dramatic piece heard offscreen, here it seems that Vesely exposes the film’s one and only actress to the offscreen voices of unseen characters, who in turn eventually unravel the story so that we are able to discern exactly what role this half-paranoid and half-delusional interviewer plays within the clickbait plot. The film is entangled in a web of computer tabs and screens, mostly in front of the mansion’s enormous window, and Vesely, through a cold color palette of gray-inflected greens and blues and a steady, patient rhythm, beautifully and eerily intensifies the film’s slow-burning and supernatural atmosphere, which step by step blurs the defining line between the real and imaginary and tackles the very philosophical question of what truth is. While it’s true that, as Sullivan’s character remarks, “All you have to do is listen” — as this is a film wherein sounds and voices communicate what’s beyond the images — the way Vesely and his DP Michael Tessari articulate a sophisticated dynamism within their compositions is what gives Monolith a prismatic quality that, despite the film’s confined setting and claustrophobic mood, delivers an intricate sensorial work wherein the richness of sound, silence, and spatial minimalism are tightly integrated. Or at least that’s the case before the final act of the film, which admittedly feels a little dissonant and unnecessarily prolonged given that Vesely doesn’t seem completely assured as to when to cut. But despite a relatively loose ending, Monolith truly asserts itself as an impressive, grounded, and solid sci-fi/horror indie that should inspire plenty of excitement for Vesely’s future work.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 12.