FrightFest 2023: Monolith Dives Head-First into a Paranormal Mystery

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Have you ever read a movie plot synopsis that resonated with a cherished childhood memory? That’s what happened to me when I first heard about Monolith. As a kid, I was obsessed with paranormal (or paranormal adjacent) mysteries like ghosts, cryptids, and aliens. My appetite for these subjects was insatiable, and I read as many books about them as I could get my hands on. As an adult, my infatuation with paranormal mysteries has waned a bit, but I still find them utterly fascinating. In particular, I’m a huge fan of movies that deal with these questions, so when I first heard about Monolith, I knew I had to check it out.

Directed by Matt Vesely, Monolith is a one-person thriller starring Lily Sullivan, and it’s about a disgraced journalist (she’s never named in the film) who attempts to revive her career by starting a podcast called Beyond Believable. In her first episode, she talks to a few people who claim to have received mysterious black bricks with seemingly paranormal properties, and it’s an instant hit. Would-be guests come out of the woodwork to tell their own stories about similar bricks, so she continues to investigate this bizarre phenomenon.

At first, the woman is skeptical about the veracity of these accounts, but as she delves deeper into the mystery, the truth becomes harder and harder to deny. Soon, her research leads her to discover some unnerving truths about her own past, and what started out as just a job eventually becomes an intensely personal quest for the truth.

One-person movies are tough to get right. It’s hard enough to keep an audience’s interest with a bunch of characters, so if there’s only one, it’s almost impossible. But somehow, Monolith pulls it off, and quite possibly the biggest reason for its success is Lily Sullivan’s amazing turn as the movie’s one real character.

A woman looking through a window
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She runs the emotional gamut from happy to terrified to devastated, and she nails it every single time. There’s even a scene where she has to look like an emotionless blank slate, and unsurprisingly, she does it perfectly. I completely believed everything her character said and did, so it’s no exaggeration to say that she single-handedly carries this movie from start to finish.

But don’t get the wrong idea. Lily Sullivan is arguably the best thing about Monolith, but she’s not the only reason the film works. It also features a captivating mystery that will keep you guessing the whole way through. Every time the main character spoke to someone about their experiences with the enigmatic black bricks, my eyes were glued to the screen, and I hung on their every word. Granted, the movie doesn’t actually show these people, but hearing them recount their stories is so enthralling I simply couldn’t look away.

And as Monolith goes on, the mystery gets even better. The film adds multiple new layers to this already baffling puzzle, and it pulls back the curtain at a nearly perfect pace. Then, when we finally learn what’s really going on, the payoff does not disappoint. It doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it tells us enough that I, for one, was quite satisfied.

In fact, I actually like that the movie maintains a sense of mystery even after it lets us in on its secrets. As any seasoned horror veteran can tell you, what you don’t know is almost always scarier than what you do know, so by keeping us in the dark about some things, Monolith ends up being the best of both worlds. It quenches our thirst for answers, but it also allows us to stew in our fear of the unknown even after the credits begin to roll.

A woman in a room with podcast equipment
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Last but not least, let’s talk about the horror in this film. For most of its runtime, it’s pretty light on scares. Instead, it focuses more on creating an atmosphere of dread, and it succeeds brilliantly. There are some really creepy shots during the main character’s phone interviews, and they let us know without a doubt that nothing good will come of her investigation.

On top of that, there’s also an excellent horror scene that takes place during a video chat with an art collector. I don’t want to give away too much about it, but I will say that it reminded me a bit of Skinamarink. It employs a similar forced-perspective technique, and for my money, it’s utterly harrowing.

Then, in the final few scenes, the movie switches gears and goes all-out on the horror. It’s not exactly scary, but it has some excellent tension and action. What’s more, this part of the film also evokes one of my favorite sci-fi horror films from the 1950s (but I can’t say which one without spoiling the ending), and I had a ton of fun with that callback. It wraps up the story in a great way, and it also gives the movie a subtle but poignant message that I wasn’t expecting.

On the negative side, I have to be honest, I don’t really have much to say. Sure, I can nitpick a few things here and there, but I don’t have any big criticisms of Monolith. This movie is nearly perfect, so I had a great time with it from start to finish. It features an amazing lead performance, some excellent horror, and one of the best mysteries I’ve seen in a while, and I absolutely can’t wait for more people to get a chance to see it.

Monolith played at FrightFest on August 26.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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