The world of podcasting quickly found its way onto film. Many of these stories look to expand the world, setting up intriguing mysteries and crimes to follow. Yet the idea of following a person as they record their podcast does not feel inherently cinematic. Director Matt Vesely takes the challenge head-on. With a screenplay by Lucy Campbell, Monolith takes one of the most iconic images in science fiction history and repurposes it. The minimalist tale shows some incredible storytelling prowess.
A disgraced investigative reporter (Lily Sullivan) goes on the run. For the first time in months, she gets an opportunity to work on her craft. However, the podcast she creates feels unfulfilling. After stumbling on a lead, she begins to follow an unusual story. Her world grows more unpredictable as she digs deeper.
The isolation we endure over the course of Monolith creates a universal moment to tie us to the narrative. The pandemic certainly pushed us into our homes, and the lack of human contact experienced by our protagonist feels extremely relatable. As Monolith leaves her alone for longer, Vesley allows the camera to evolve in its style. What begins as a more intimate, focused experience becomes more voyeuristic. He then slings us back into intimacy during the most exhilarating moments of the narrative, forcing us to question everything about what we watched and our protagonists’ mental state.
Sullivan’s performance puts a woman struggling to keep her life together centerstage. Unlike other films, which often show a woman struggling because of “mania,” Monolith engages with the pressure of performing at the highest standard. Gaslit into disaster by a previous story she chose to follow, Sullivan’s character struggles with her self-confidence. Sullivan wants to believe in a new story, but the disastrous results of her last one overwhelm her. Her pessimism begins to grind on her mental state, and her isolation throughout Monolith opens questions about her perceptions of reality. Sullivan brings these struggles to the forefront of the performance, which helps raise the power of the screenplay.
The choice to include a fairly specific sci-fi icon opens more doors for Monolith. While the item in question has long held an ambiguous meaning in popular culture, the reframe only adds to the mystery. As watch the exploration of the item and why it appears to a select few, we wonder about its significance and purpose. Layering on additional conspiracies about the films it pulls from (which remain unnamed), the isolation leads to even bigger questions. Monolith never shies away from wondering if we’re alone in the universe, and most importantly, wonders what this could mean for the future of our kind.
While Monolith may not be the most inventive film, it displays a strong cast and crew that can work wonders. Minimalist sci-fi is still getting a foothold in the industry, and Monolith shows the power that it can bring. Every bit as thrilling and mysterious as you’d hope, Monolith should be a sleeper hit in the year to come.