My notes on Monolith
Last year, at FrightFest, there was a film, Curve, about a woman trapped in her overturned car … in a development of the micro-genre, which perhaps dates back to Cujo, here’s a film about a woman locked out of her high-tech car, with her asthmatic child stuck inside.
Early on, ex-pop singer Sandra (Katrina Bowden) has an uncomfortable encounter with a bunch of young party types at a gas station – providing ominous hints of menace to come, but also illustrating the life she’s given ip to have David (Nixen Hodges) with her slightly shady producer husband Carl (Damon Dayoub). Suddenly suspicious of what hubby is up to on his business trip, Sandra decides not to visit her parents for the weekend but take an impromptu desert drive to surprise him in Los Angeles. She’s at the wheel of the Monolith, a matt-black family car with a purring AI called Lilith (Katherine Kelly Lang) and all sorts of safety features which turn out to contribute to the contraption becoming a death-trap when a series of circumstances bring about a crisis. A puff on a cigarette sets off alarms and automated stern warning but an actual brushfire prompts it to turn off the air-con at the worst possible time. Constantly-updated traffic reports persuade the car to take a desert road off the freeway to avoid a snarl-up, which leads to Sandra smacking into a deer – then getting out, leaving her mobile phone (with its Monolith app) in the hands of Niven, who thinks he’s playing a phone game called Turtle when he accidentally shifts the car into ‘vault mode’, a form of extreme lockdown designed to thwart carjackers.
It’s another simple conundrum story, after the manner of Adrift or Open Waters, but with a central contrivance in that the Monolith and Lilith (would these names really work on the marke?) have been designed by a host of Italian screenwriters (besides director Ivan Silvestrini, there are credits for Elena Bucaccio, Stefano Sardo and Mauro Uzzeo, from a story by Roberto Recchioni) just to make life difficult for the heroine. Bowden – who has a pretty spotty CV (Piranha 3DD, Movie 43, Scary Movie 5 and Nurse 3-D) – struggles a bit with the near-constant chatter imposed on her. The film would be stronger if she were just allowed to give a physical performance, like Dennis Weaver in Duel, rather than talking to herself, her child or God throughout. She is forced to leave the car and strays surreally onto a derelict airfield, where she scavenges useful stuff from an abandoned, decayed airliner – and walks across enough rocks and sand to outfit a sequel to Gerry, with the occasional snarl-off with a mangy dog who evokes the animal menaces of The Grey and Frozen. It may well stretch things too far, but the climax – in which Sandra takes appalling action, and has to learn to trust Lilith to be better-designed than she seems to be – is satisfyingly demented. When this shuts up for a bit to look at the (impressive) scenery and allow Bowden to become a stringy tiger-mom heroine, it’s a solid suspense movie.