Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Taking on the Monolith
"Silvestrini, in only his second feature, does an excellent job of sustaining the tension in a situation where it would be easy for the audience, as well as the protagonist, to despair."

Have you ever been locked out of your smart car? It might sound like the kind of stupid mistake you couldn't imagine yourself making, but according to the AAA, it happened to more than four million US drivers in 2012 alone. If you're in a supermarket car park it's a bit embarassing but help is usually at hand. Now imagine that you're out in the desert, on a little-used road, and your toddler is trapped inside.

That's the set-up for Monolith, a high concept thriller from Italian director Ivan Silvestrini. Former pop star and uncertain adult Sandra (Katrina Bowden) is, like most young mothers, convinced that she's getting it wrong, and flippant criticism from strangers only makes her feel worse, as does isolation from her record producer husband, who is travelling for work. When she gets it into her head that he's sleeping with somebody else, she acts on impulse and, telling no-one, sets out to drive cross country to reach him. Her car - the Monolith of the title - is a recent gift from him, the sort new fathers buy in an effort to keep their loved ones as safe as possible. Given her awful driving, it might be a good idea, but she's not only careless about what she does behind the wheel, she's careless with her mobile phone, and the app that controls the car turns out to be all to easy for her toddler to use by mistake.

Copy picture

The first part of Monolith is effective in establishing character and exploring the complexities of the relationship between mother and child, but a little clumsy in how it sets up the central calamity, with more separate pieces of bad luck than are really necessary. Once it gets beyond this, however, the film is strong. Bowden reveals unexpected depths as her character is forced to summon up all of her resources and push herself past the point where she thought her limits lay. Strapped into his car seat, toddler David (Nixon Hodges) can barely move, let alone reach food or water or keep himself cool once the sun rises. If she can't find a way to reach him, he's going to die.

While it may be extreme, the situation is believable and also reflects the terror most parents feel at one time or another when circumstances seem overwhelming and coping impossible. The writing team wisely keeps things simple so that the focus of the film remains on that simple, relatable fear, while encounters with a coyote and a ruined vehicle, each seeming to emerge from another plane of existence, introduce a Gothic element. It's almost as if the immensity of the problem, together with the ease with which it has developed, makes it impossible to comprehend in normal terms. Sandra can rage as hard as she likes but ultimately the only thing that might save her child is coming to look at the world in a different way.

Silvestrini, in only his second feature, does an excellent job of sustaining the tension in a situation where it would be easy for the audience, as well as the protagonist, to despair. Sandra's inventiveness keeps things interesting and means we escape the familiar frustration of watching idiots flounder around onscreen. He also coaxes a perfect performance from young Hodges that makes the child more than just a motivating factor for Sandra - a person we can care about in his own right. The occasional sentimental note can be excused because it does feel earned and when it's time for action, the film really delivers.

It's said that onscreen monsters are often at their most imposing when doing very little. Monolith can give most car chase spectaculars a run for their money.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2016
Share this with others on...
A woman driving a high-tech car through the desert stops and gets out after she hits a deer, only for her toddler son to accidentally lock her out and himself in.

Director: Ivan Silvestrini

Writer: Elena Bucaccio, Roberto Recchioni, Stefano Sardo

Starring: Katrina Bowden, Nixon Hodges, Damon Dayoub, Brandon Jones, Jason Hayden

Year: 2016

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Italy, US


Frightfest 2016

Search database:

Related Articles:

Car trouble

If you like this, try:

Never Let Go