'Monument' film review: Menace, ambiguity underscore this experimental tone poem
In short: Twenty students expecting a summer internship wake up on a cold bus parked in front of a remote hotel - where they are stripped of their identities and forced into dull work.
Writer-director Jagoda Szelc drops the audience into the story almost at the same moment as the characters just become aware of what is happening. They are introduced as a nameless set of strangers on a bus - and it's immediately clear they don't know each other and they only have the vaguest idea of where they are headed. Like the students themselves, the audience never has chance to get solid footing before being abruptly thrown into the "internship."
After a disorienting introduction of the students to their new gigs at the hotel, the first act methodically tracks the mundanity of their menial tasks, with little resembling plot. The disjointed scenes offer insights into their jobs - but it's all in service of establishing this film's cryptic atmosphere. What starts out as students complaining about the strict manager and sneaking a cigarette break slowly but steadily becomes increasingly bizarre.
The first indication of this film's sinister edge: cast of twenty main characters do not have names in the credits. They are simply listed as "Girl" or "Boy." "Monument" taps into a fundamental fear of being homogenized to the point of irrelevance - trapped in a repetitive hell performing the same meaningless jobs, for an indeterminate eternity for some insignificant reward at the end.
The audience should know upfront, "Monument" requires patience and an open mind. The film is confident with its ambiguity, often dropping hints that illicit questions - questions that the film is perfectly comfortable with not answering. It's difficult to summarize the plot in any meaningful way - except to say each segment tracks the psychological erosion of its characters. The film has almost no sense of time, which only further disorients the characters and the audience. At the very least, the film offers linearity, inasmuch as the psychological unraveling of the group is relatively easy to follow.
Final verdict: The experimental aspects of "Monument" and the fact that the "why" of anything is just out of grasp makes "Monument" a film that is at times challenging and possibly inscrutable to some audiences. Ultimately this unconventional drama is more about the overall "feel" of the film — and whether the patience required is paid off in the end is debatable at best. “Monument” earns degree-of-difficulty points for telling the same collective experience through several, disparate segments.
"Monument" screens during the 2019 North Bend Film Fest. This thriller has a running time of 118 minutes and is not yet rated.