Skip the Press Notes: ‘Monolith’ Is a Tidy Science Fiction Thriller Featuring a Bravura Performance by Lily Sullivan

Director Mike Vesely’s comments about his new film prompt a request that ‘creatives’ drop the litany of social justice platitudes that presumably gloss the subject at hand with an impenetrable sheen of righteousness.

Via Well Go USA
Lily Sullivan in 'Monolith.' Via Well Go USA

Having waded through a deluge of press releases during my years as a critic, I’d like to throw down a gauntlet to “creatives” as they look to garner notice for their paintings, their songs, their movies, their music, their whatevers: Let’s see if we can make what remains of 2024 a year free of convoluted jargon, political hand-wringing, and hard-charging theoretical nostrums.

You know what I’m talking about, the litany of social justice platitudes that presumably gloss the subject at hand with an impenetrable sheen of righteousness. Avoiding such cant will be tough, I know, but crafting a press bulletin minus the inescapable frisson of guilt-mongering is a challenge worth considering. It might even convince your audience that pleasure needn’t be inherently suspect.

All of which was prompted by director Mike Vesely’s comments about his new film “Monolith.” 

Here he is setting down the underpinnings of his picture: “The Western World … is built on these crimes — colonization, exploitation, domination — and only continues to exist as-is through willful ignorance and a fear of the unknown.” He goes on to say that “perhaps to move forward … we’re going to have to burn everything down.” Doubtless, he’d like that moment to arrive after his movie hits the theaters.

Forget, for a moment, the narrow intellectual prism by which Mr. Vesely posits Western civilization. Consider, instead, his cinematic colleague, screenwriter Lucy Campbell. Although she does go on about privilege and truth (“whatever that means”), Ms. Campbell talks about the excitement she felt working with Mr. Vesely and producer Bettina Hamilton. Why? Because they are “two of the biggest, loudest sci-fi nerds I have ever met.”

Lily Sullivan in ‘Monolith.’ Via Well Go USA

Now we’re talking: Never underestimate the initiative of nerds committed to a common cause. Not that “Monolith” is without serious undercurrents; memory and hubris are two of the themes touched upon in its narrative. Still, Ms. Campbell’s script is crisp and clever, and Mr. Vesely keeps things tight, tense, and brisk. Most importantly, they’ve prompted a bravura performance from the movie’s star, Lily Sullivan.

Not only is Ms. Sullivan the star of “Monolith,” she is, in fact, the only actor in the picture. Although we are privy to dialogue with other characters, we experience them only as voices over the phone or online. Ms. Sullivan’s character, a journalist known only to us as The Interviewer, is front-and-center throughout the entire film. Similarly, the story takes place in a single locale: a sleek house situated in the far reaches of the Australian countryside. 

Our heroine is holed up in what turns out to be her parents’ house after having committed a career-killing ethical gaffe. Attempting to put her foot back in the game, she’s hosting a podcast of dubious integrity and sensationalistic mien. When an email arrives detailing what sounds like some weird confluence of art heist and otherworldly influence, the Interviewer’s curiosity is piqued. After a package arrives on her doorstep that contains a thumb drive featuring a home movie from her 9th birthday party, things get weirder. And then the stomach ache begins….

Mr. Vesely and Ms. Hamilton have crafted a tidy science fiction thriller. Cheap, too, but money is only a problem when a film’s production values impede its ability to snag and then hold our attention. Here the economy of budget has fostered creativity of means, making for a picture in which every detail has been weighed and counter-balanced to impressive effect. This is one product of Western civilization that delivers the goods.

The New York Sun

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