(Matt Vesely, Australia, 2022)

BY JOSÉ TEODORO | February 16, 2024
A woman places her hands over her headphones

A public case of professional disgrace has driven a journalist (Lily Sullivan) to hide out at her parents’ vacant, sprawling country home. But the young woman, credited simply as “the interviewer”—we learn her subjects’ names but never her own—refuses to be defeated. She’s tenacious and clearly comes from an affluent family, one eager to help her recover her career. To keep working, the interviewer takes a gig hosting a spooky true-stories podcast called Beyond Believable, and it’s in this capacity that she receives an anonymous tip regarding a now-retired housekeeper, Floramae (Ling Cooper Tang), who 20 years earlier had a deeply spooky encounter with a mysterious black brick. When the interviewer calls, Floramae sounds agitated and keeps saying that she shouldn’t be talking about the brick, then continues to talk about it, how it simply appeared one day, how its appearance coincided with her own incident of professional disgrace, and how it was thereafter stolen by her employer. The details of Floramae’s story are strange and sketchy, but the interviewer is hooked.

Working out of her parents’ study, the interviewer follows the thread. She finds Klaus (Terence Crawford), the Berlin art dealer to whom Floamae’s employer sold the brick. Turns out Klaus possesses a collection of such bricks, has studied them, formed a theory about them, and has a brick story of his own. The interviewer finds a financial advisor in Ohio who also has a brick story, who once had visions accompanied by the smell of rotten meat, and who believes the bricks are related to such visions. In a relatively short amount of time, the interviewer discovers numerous brick stories going back several decades and transpiring in different locales all over the world. Each brick seems to speak directly to its recipient: each recipient feels the brick was made exclusively for them. Indeed, it seems that hidden within each brick is a unique message, each in a distinct yet equally indecipherable language. Are the bricks enchanted things, perhaps of extraterrestrial origin? Are they part of an elaborate hoax or conspiracy theory or collective hallucination? Has the story of the bricks been waiting for the interviewer to discover it all this time?

Finally getting a broader release after making its domestic premiere at the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival and its international premiere at last year’s SXSW, Matt Vesely’s feature directorial debut, written by Lucy Campbell, is a carefully constructed, steadily intriguing work of chamber science fiction. Aside from a turtle named Ian—a demure creature confined to an aquarium whose glass walls echo the vast panes of the house in which most of the film unfolds—the interviewer is Monolith’s only present-tense, on-screen character, and Sullivan provides a finely graded performance, one generously supported by her co-stars’ audio-only interventions, by a suitably spare sound design, by Tania Nehme’s entrancing editing patterns, and by visual elements that are at once unobtrusive and cumulatively discomfiting. The world outside the study where the interviewer works is verdant, soft, and foggy. The gardens, lawns, and distant trees initially seem like a mere impression or abstraction of a landscape, only to be explored and imbued with texture in the film’s menacing second half. Those immense windows gradually get covered in printouts, photos, sticky notes, and other research materials—burgeoning evidence of an obsession.

While it aligns with a certain storytelling tradition, Campbell’s smart script never feels ingratiatingly allusive; rather, it subtly suggests numerous precedents, from the weird tales of Victorian and Edwardian authors such as Ambrose Bierce and Algernon Blackwood to mid-20th century genre classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Conversation to more recent—and more contentious—films like The Box or Pontypool, which also suggested the notion of a disease transmitted through sound. The geographical scope of Monolith is severely limited, but its thematic scope is immense, involving ethical questions regarding provenance in the art world, journalistic license, class, and exploitation. Bricks are used to construct our homes, but here they’re capable of dismantling lives. That’s assuming, of course, that the bricks have any agency at all. Given where Monolith goes in its final scenes, one could read this story as suggesting that the real monster lies within. 🩸


is a freelance critic and playwright.

X: @chiminomatic

How to see Monolith

The films opens theatrically and digitally on February 16.
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