Starring Katrina Bowden, Brandon W. Jones, Justine Wachsberger, Damon Dayoub
Directed by Ivan Silvestrini
Screened at FrightFest 2016
Ex-pop idol Sandra (Bowden) is a conflicted woman. Regretful of the starry life she left behind when she had her son, David, her personal crisis isn’t helped by the suspicion that her aloof husband, Carl (Dayoub) is cheating on her.
Behind the wheel of her brand new car – the titular Monolith – Sandra’s supposed to be taking David to visit her parents for the weekend… but when her ‘cheating bastard’ alarm is sent into high gear by a conversation with one of her friends, she decides to change course and take the extended desert drive to Los Angeles in order to confront her film producer husband in person.
The Monolith itself is presented as the latest, greatest in automotive technology. Powered by the ‘Lilith’ AI, operated through a smartphone app, the Monolith is a near-impenetrable, bulletproof tank of a family vehicle complete with beyond-mod-con interior and exterior functions.
When Sandra hits a deer on a winding desert shortcut, she gets out to investigate – only for David, whom she so absently-minded allows to play with her smartphone, to activate Lilith’s ‘vault’ mode and summarily secure himself inside the vehicle.
Unable to get inside and retrieve her child, Sandra is forced into a race against time where she must figure out how to get the helpless youngster out of an impenetrable fortress that’s rapidly becoming an oven in the desert heat.
Monolith’s premise is a decent, if unspectacular one, but Silvestrini and co. never manage to fill their one-note story template with much of interest once David is locked in the car, seeing Sandra haggardly wandering the surrounding environs, finding a few small utilities of interest and wandering back again.
There’s a spark of adrenaline introduced through the introduction of a feral dog, determined to make both Sandra and the dead deer its next meal – its involvement, however, is short-lived and the eventual removal of the canine from the story indicative of both a serious lack of knowledge of the behaviour of wild dogs (especially once they’ve already bitten and subjugated a potential prey) and of Monolith’s patchy storytelling.
In fact, in a vain attempt to perk things up a bit, Silvestrini even takes an hallucinatory detour into a potential future that many viewers are likely to wish had been the actual direction of the narrative. Alas, it isn’t to be, and we continue to play victim to Sandra’s efforts to retrieve her child – hoping with every passing moment that Monolith will just get to the inevitable solution that anyone paying attention will find not-so-subtly foreshadowed within the first 20 minutes.
Whilst Bowden’s performance is strong and convincing enough, her character is grating. Watching a well-to-do, lazy parent suffer an early mid-life crisis isn’t the most interesting of situations, and it’s hard to form any sympathy for Sandra or her almost incessantly whining child given the highly reactive, self-centred personality she exudes throughout the first act. The writing makes her look like a narcissist desperately trying to convince herself that her child is more important than the life that could have been, and Bowden struggles to make the material relatable through no fault of her own.
Culminating in a ridiculous CGI mountain climbing vehicle sequence, Monolith constantly struggles to stay on the right side of absurdity. For example, how this super-smart car is capable of detecting the weight and position of individual passengers, but isn’t programmed in any way to tell that weight on a seat plus the blaring heat outside is not a good combination, is beyond logic. This is especially true of the ‘vault mode’ that entraps David, which is supposed to be protective of those inside the vehicle (in event of, for example, a carjacking). At the very least, it could reasonably be expected that this function would be tuned to protect the lives of dogs with careless owners.
Or, for that matter, careless parents who’d rather let their kids fart about on a smartphone (despite being warned about exactly that) than do something else to stop them whining. But what do I know… I’m not a multinational supercar manufacturer who could possibly absorb such a massive lawsuit.
Still, Monolith is one gorgeous-looking film. The locations are stunning, and the sense of style throughout is impeccable. Those with an interest in cinematography will find loads to love here… but those looking for an interesting story, gripping tension or much beyond aggravation and boredom are likely to be left severely wanting.