The suffocation of isolation is physical and metaphorical in Matt Vesely's "Monolith," a single-location thriller about the dubious nature of podcast journalism. At the core of Lucy Campbell's screenplay is a question about what anyone will believe in times of dire need and the ease with which theoretical events spread like infections. True crime shadiness is challenged once more as show hosts doctor facts to fit their storytelling methods, pointing towards the ickiness of profiting from another Dahmer or Bundy special. It's not exactly the most exciting inspection of human desires, but hinges on a nifty mechanic that sells an experience resting on a lone performer's shoulders from the comfort of her audio editing station.
Lily Sullivan stars as The Interviewer, a podcast host burdened by expectations as she launches her newest project: Beyond Believable. Conversations with an old friend cause us to believe her credibility has been damaged due to a lawsuit from a previous podcast snafu, and that Beyond Believable is her restart. In hunting for the perfect topic, Campbell's nameless host stumbles upon an eerie case of black bricks in random people's possession. Some recount surreal dreams, others say visions plague them, but the mystery remains about how these black bricks found their owners. The perplexing puzzle could launch Beyond Believable into the stratosphere if the interviewer isn't consumed by her increasing delusions.
"Monolith" is a character study about Sullivan's stay-at-home reporter that peels back the psyche of internet sleuths. As the host wades deeper into tales about black bricks of possibly alien origin, intentions of truth-seeking collide with fan mail and viewership numbers that ensure the show's backers will fund future episodes. Sullivan's interactions are primarily with her computer when splicing audio clips together, yet she finds ways to convey tension as she deletes interviewee words to misrepresent statements that become juicier to the public. It's all on-the-nose commentary about who's best served by exposés and tell-alls — the creator getting all the attention or the participants who trust a stranger with their stories.
The Distress Of Isolation
Due to inherent minimalism in storytelling, "Monolith" can be a sleepy sci-fi-ish marathon of voices over phones and mouse clicks. Cinematographer Michael Tessari utilizes every inch of the production's barren house location, using window reflections to add depth or panning back to exploit how alone Sullivan is in every scene. Vesely's direction and Campbell's storytelling craft a unique angle to sell single-location necessitation that Tessari elevates through visual arrangements reflecting contemplative silence, the same quietness that Sullivan's character is forced to deal with by her lonesome. The podcast creation motivation leaves Sullivan's interviewer to her own devices, which becomes a more intriguing story about how online conspiracy culture thrives where there's only one person evaluating opinions.
The psychological analysis of mass hysteria, shared paranoias, and our selfish craving to popularize someone else's story for personal gains isn't richly expansive. It's telling and inarguable, but horror elements — adjacent at best — aren't emphatic enough to distract from the breezier nature of Sullivan's one-woman show. Vesely has a keen eye for shot composition, and Sullivan keys into the uneasiness within soundwaves that become her character's strange obsession, yet "Monolith" still will test patience as the talkative brand of suspense relies massively on the film's last few minutes. A throttle towards the inevitable in a relatively low gear never builds breakneck momentum, more floating through psychoanalytical weirdness wired to our insatiable desire to explain the unexplainable.
Fans of slower-burn, brainwave-tickling chills should keep an eye out for "Monolith." Matt Vesely peers into the digital emptiness of online spaces and questions the ethics of investigative exploitation through means that play at half-volume. Lily Sullivan earns her praise as a solo actor who only needs technology as a supporting cast, one of the highlights that sustains "Monolith" beyond an intriguing idea put to screen. Don't expect your adrenaline to pump — remember, sometimes the silent types hold the darkest secrets.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
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