MONOLITH

★★★★

FEEL SOMETHING GROWING DEEP INSIDE

SXSW SYDNEY REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
18th October 2023

'There are all sorts of odd occurrences that take place throughout our lives, things we can't explain. We experience a sense of déjà vu, or a shiver runs down our spine. What if an unexplained object turned up in your life, and changed everything forever? 'Monolith' is an Australian thriller with just the right amount of sci-fi to make things really interesting - and the twists here are certainly nothing like you've ever seen.

The Interviewer (Lily Sullivan, 'Evil Dead Rise', 'Jungle') is essentially trapped inside her parents' home in the middle of nowhere, after her last journalistic endeavour went awry and the subject of her scathing assault turned sour and his supporters turned on her. Her new job on a podcast focusing on unexplained mysteries brings her across an anonymous tip about a brick - not just any brick, but a black brick with an aura about it and a kind of power over its owner. As her first episode rolls out the podcast proves to be the hit she needs - not just from the intrigue, but from the ample identical stories from around the world. But what danger do these mysterious stones hold - and why did the anonymous tipster want her to begin digging in the first place?

SWITCH: 'MONOLITH' TRAILER

This is a gorgeously constructed slow-burn thriller, making great use of its single location. This giant house with its exposed glass windows looking out on the desolate Australian landscape (or worse still, the pitch-black night sky) often gives you the sense of something foreboding, that something is lurking just around the corner of its cold concrete interior or just out of sight on the horizon outside. For the film's run time, it's almost entirely unpleasant in the most effective way possible. Sullivan is the only character to appear on camera, with others introduced into her life and on the podcast via her phone. This also adds to the degree of isolation you experience, while the impact of the caller on the other end of the line is frequently akin to scary stories around a campfire.

It also speaks volumes as to the degree of skill offered up by Sullivan. On camera for some 98 per cent of the screen time, she makes this film what it is. Foremost establishing her character as a somewhat privileged, somewhat damaged, somewhat desperate individual, she has to try to hold herself together as the story begins to unravel. It's a huge credit that this is played with such subtlety and nuance, and could have been applied much more heavy-handedly. Sullivan truly works wonders in balancing her character's headstrong desire to pursue the story - to simultaneously redeem herself and gain acclaim - and her growing fear over who or what is behind the mystery.

Lily Sullivan truly works wonders in balancing her character's headstrong desire to pursue the story - to simultaneously redeem herself and gain acclaim - and her growing fear over who or what is behind the mystery.

Sullivan is supported by Lucy Campbell's truly unique premise and Matt Vesely's direction. The screenplay starts out so grounded in reality that it's almost impossible to fathom the story taking such a slow yet steady shift into the sci-fi genre, a move so perfectly paced that in hindsight it feels completely natural. There's one moment in particular when the penny drops and Sullivan's character comes to a realisation about the potential origins of the bricks, which to me was so wickedly satiating. Similarly, Vesely's work isn't wasteful for a moment, and teamed with director of photography Michael Tessari ('Awoken'), they find new and interesting ways of showing off capturing the podcast, the growing paranoia as the stories of the bricks pile up, and the claustrophobia as things get personal.

With a small budget, the Australian team behind 'Monolith' have achieved a monumental feat. Delivering an undercurrent of discomfort throughout through a story with an unexpectedly fresh sci-fi twist, it's a slow-burn thriller that's well worth the journey. Who knows - it may also stop you from opening deliveries to your home for the rest of your life.

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