Monolith director Matt Vesely, writer Lucy Campbell and producer Bettina Hamilton (as part of South Australia’s FilmLab: New Voices initiative) have come together to create a brilliantly disturbing science-fiction thriller, flipping budgetary constraint from disadvantage to narrative asset. Using a single location and only one on-screen actor, Monolith skillfully uses these limitations to heighten tension, weaving a darkly claustrophobic narrative through a podcaster’s deep-dive into the origins of a mysterious artefact.
A young journalist (Lily Sullivan) retreats to her parents’ isolated luxury home with her career in tatters after being fired from a respected newspaper for ethical misconduct. Still reeling from the public disgrace, she begins work as a podcaster for “Beyond Believable”, a clickbait series that claims to dig into unsolved mysteries and uncover hidden truths.
Casting about for a story, she is at a loss until she finds an anonymous email amid the hate mail and interview requests, pointing her towards a retired housekeeper who claims a mysterious object ruined her life. She contacts the woman, who tells her how 20 years ago she received a black brick – an object which exercised a strange power over her, giving her visions and making her ill. The brick was stolen by her employers, who fired her, then sold the object a German art dealer.
After only two phone calls, the young journalist busies herself editing and manipulating the recordings into the first episode of her podcast. It’s an international success, and soon she is inundated with stories from all over the world of other black bricks and their sinister impact.
Flushed with excitement, the journalist dives down a rabbit hole of research, uncovering a strange assemblage of questionable evidence – alien linguistics, illness transmitted by a vector previously unknown to science, a governmental cover-up. With the podcast trending, the journalist is happy to stoke the flames of conspiracy theory under the cover of revealing “the truth”. Then a package arrives on her doorstep and the mystery of the black brick becomes terrifyingly personal.
Sullivan is superb as the ethically dubious journalist, effortlessly holding the focus of the entire film as her character freefalls from disgrace through mania and into madness.
Vesely’s feature is far more than a clever manipulation of constraint to heighten tension, and it doesn’t rely solely on alien threat to generate its deliciously ominous atmosphere. While standing solidly in the science-fiction genre, Monolith is at heart a human story.
Beneath the thrilling claustrophobia lies a cunning puncturing of privilege and a clear-eyed critique of the way we construct, manipulate and ultimately consume “truth” in a globalised world.
Monolith is screening again at 6pm tonight (October 31) at Palace Nova Eastend as part of the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival.
Read more Film Festival stories and reviews here.
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