Review: ‘Monolith’ (2023), starring Lily Sullivan

March 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Lily Sullivan in “Monolith” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Monolith” (2023)

Directed by Matt Vesely

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city Australia, the sci-fi horror film “Monolith” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asian people and one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A disgraced journalist, who now works as a podcaster, gets caught up in the mystery of black bricks that have a bizarre power over people who own the bricks. 

Culture Audience: “Monolith” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching suspenseful horror movies where a lot is left up to interpretation and imagination.

Lily Sullivan in “Monolith” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

The ending of “Monolith” might be frustratingly vague to some viewers, but this sci-fi horror movie is a suspenseful labyrinth featuring a captivating performance from Lily Sullivan as a podcaster trying to uncover the mystery behind ominous black bricks. Sullivan is the only person seen talking on screen for the entire movie, since she portrays a podcaster who has isolated herself inside her parents’ home while attempting to solve the mystery. “Monolith” is not the movie for you if you don’t want to watch a film where the majority of it shows someone talking on the phone with other people who do not appear in the movie.

Directed by Matt Vesely (his feature-film directorial debut) and written by Lucy Campbell, “Monolith” had its world premiere at the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival in Australia and its North American premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. “Monolith” was filmed on location in South Australia, but the city where the story takes place is not mentioned in the movie. The name of the central character portrayed by Sullivan is also not mentioned and is listed in the end credits only as The Interviewer. She is a journalist working as a podcaster because she has been recently fired from a high-profile newspaper (a publication called the Evening Journal) for mishandling a news story about someone famous named David Langley, who ended up suing for defamation.

Before the movie focuses on The Interviewer, “Monolith” begins by showing a blank, black screen and eerie voiceover narration of someone identifying himself as Jarad (voiced by Damon Herriman), who says: “I want to tell you something. Ever since I was young, there was something different about my family. A secret. Mom reckoned she had been followed her whole life.”

Jarad goes on to describe a childhood memory of being at a beach with his mother and seeing his mother yelling at a man who was taking her picture. The man told his mother, “I’m sorry. This is the way it has to be.” He ran into a nearby street and got hit by a car.

The camera he left behind had thousands of photos of Jarad’s mother and their family that made it obvious that whoever took the photos was stalking the family. Jarad says the camera was given to the police, who claimed they had no evidence of who this mystery stalker was. And then, the camera went missing. Jarad also mentions in this voiceover that the stalker was from the future.

The movie then shows The Interviewer making an apology video for her mistakes in her news story on David Langley. She admits to failing to corroborate the evidence and investigate the credibility of her sources. She concludes the apology by saying, “My actions do not reflect the Evening Journal’s operations or integrity.”

The scandal has resulted in David Langley’s fans harassing The Interviewer, so she is staying at her parents’ house to lie low until the turmoil dies down. The only work she’s been able to find is for a low-budget podcast called Beyond Believable, which covers unsolved mysteries, conspiracy theories and hoaxes. It’s a big step down from the prestigious journalist job that she had at the Evening Journal.

Her podcast boss Tyler (voiced by Chase Coleman) has been waiting patiently for The Interviewer to deliver her first story for Beyond Believable, but The Interviewer hasn’t come up with any ideas, and she knows she’s running out of time before she’ll get in trouble with Tyler for not doing the job she was hired to do. Feeling desperate, The Interviewers checks her email for story ideas and comes across a cryptic email with the subject heading “The Truth Will Out.”

The email has instructions to call someone named Floramae King at Floramae’s phone number and says that Floramae needs to be asked about a brick that Floramae knows very well. With nothing to lose, The Interviewer calls Floramae out of curiosity. Floramae (voiced by Ling Cooper Tang, with a photo of actress Janet Tan shown in the movie to depict Floramae) seems very surprised to get this phone call and is very reluctant to talk about the brick.

However, The Interviewer is very persuasive in explaining why she is calling and why Floramae needs to do this interview. The Interviewer says if The Interviewer received this email, then other journalists got the same email, but The Interviewer will be better than other journalists in getting Floramae’s side of the story told. Floramae agrees to be interviewed and is told that this phone interview is being recorded and will used on the podcast.

Floramae tells her story about the brick, which was in her possession about 20 years ago. She describes it as a black brick that size of a gold bar and “darker than anything I’ve ever seen.” Floramae also says about the brick, “It was very heavy. As soon as I held it, I felt like something was changing.”

Floramae says that 20 years ago, she was working as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family consisting of two parents who had a son and a daughter. Floramae was a single mother living with her daughter Paula, who was a child at the time. The employer family treated Floramae and Paula very well and offered to pay for Paula’s private education at an elite school. The brick appeared on the family’s property, but Floramae can’t remember exactly where on the property the brick was found.

One day, Floramae found deep scratches on the furniture in the house, with the biggest damage done to the dining room table. The family blamed Paula for this vandalism, but Paula and Floramae both denied that Paula caused any of the damage to the furniture. Even if it could be proven that Paula caused the damage, Floramae did not have the money to pay for the repairs.

Shortly after this incident, the family’s patriarch took the brick without Floramae’s permission and sold it to an art dealer in Germany. The patriarch said the money from the sale would be approximately the same amount to repair the furniture damage. Floramae complained to the patriarch that he stole the brick, and she was fired. Floramae bitterly says that the family cut all ties with Floramae and Paula.

It just so happens that when Floramae is doing this phone interview, adult Paula is at Floramae’s house for a visit. When Paula (voiced by Ansuya Nathan) overhears her mother Floramae talking on the phone about the brick to a journalist, Paula gets very upset and orders Floramae to get off the phone. The conversation is cut short.

The rest of “Monolith” follows The Interviewer investigating the mystery of the black brick by making numerous phone calls. She tracks down the art dealer who bought the brick that used to be owned by Floramae. He’s a Berlin-based art dealer named Klaus Lang (voiced by Terence Crawford), who has a collection of these black bricks.

The Interviewer also talks to a man with an African accent named John (voiced by Rashidi Edward), who tells how this mysterious brick affected members of his family. Another clues come from a woman in Ohio named Laura (voiced by Kate Box), who used to own one of the bricks. The Interviewer finds out that people who come in contact with the bricks start to lose their appetite and have suicidal thoughts or hallucinations. At one point in the movie, The Interviewer notices that a turtle in the house’s aquarium hasn’t been eating.

The Interviewer has a brother named Scott Evans (voiced by Matt Crook), who works in the linguistics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scott helps with the investigation. And so does a London-based journalist named Shiloh Lowden (voiced by Brigid Zengeni), who has also been trying to solve the mystery of these bricks.

The stories that The Interviewer hears in “Monolith” are strange, but they feel even more unsettling in large part because of the way the movie was filmed. Although The Interviewer is in a spacious house with a lot of glass windows for walls, the Interviewer stays in one room (which has the podcast equipment) for a great deal of the movie, thereby making the location look claustrophobic. In addition, the musical score by Benjamin Speed enhances the increasing tension in the story.

Viewers watching “Monolith” will be very curious to find out what’s the mystery behind these bricks, but don’t expect the movie to give all the answers. The last 20 minutes of the film turn into a lot of weirdness that mostly makes sense if viewers are paying attention to all the clues leading up to the climactic part of the movie. Still, some parts of the story remained muddled, as if the filmmakers didn’t bother trying to explain everything. The horror that viewers are supposed to be left with is the feeling of not knowing if an entity that is hard to understand is really good or evil.

Well Go USA released “Monolith” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 16, 2024. The movie was released in Australia on October 26, 2023. “Monolith” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 23, 2024.

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