Perhaps it is because of Australia’s unique landscape that its film and TV industry does so well when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. Well known for its idiosyncratic strand of sci-fi TV series and features — think the Mad Max franchise, 1993’s eco-thriller-cum-comedy miniseries Stark, or even 1922 director Zak Hilditch’s 2013 slow-burning apocalyptic sci-fi film These Final Hours — Australian cinema is now set to produce another movie in the same vein with Monolith.
The product of a collaboration between debut director Matt Vesely, writer Lucy Campbell, producer Bettina Hamilton, and cinematographer Michael Tessari (whose work is soon to be seen on Netflix’s new series Gymnastics Academy: A Second Chance), the indie film is being made on a shoestring budget of less than half a million Australian dollars. The movie is distributed by Bonsai Films and is supported by Film Lab: New Voices, a new initiative funded by the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC), Adelaide Film Festival (AFF), and Mercury CX designed to foster new film-making talent in South Australia. The film’s most intriguing aspect is that it features a single character.
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So what’s in store for moviegoers? Here’s the skinny on this taut, twisty sci-fi film.
Monolith: The Plot
Monolith’s plot centers around the life of a disgraced journalist — we don’t get to know her name or even exactly what happened to her — who tries to resuscitate her flagging career by starting a podcast. The content is pulpy and altogether too full of clickbait to do her much good until she uncovers an odd artifact that she takes as evidence of an alien conspiracy.
It may strike one as impractical for such a story to be told on an indie budget, but the filmmakers play to their strengths by turning the physical constraints imposed by the small budget into an advantage. They locate the entire film on a single set with a single character — “the interviewer” — carrying the plot throughout. The confined, almost claustrophobic setting contrasts with the pastoral scenes outside (the film was shot in the Adelaide Hills). It gives Monolith a highly unusual atmosphere, more like a locked room mystery than conventional sci-fi.
Monolith: The Cast
The film’s one and only cast member is Australian actor Lily Sullivan. A Queenslander by upbringing, Sullivan made her debut in Mental, a 2012 comedy-drama about the nanny of a family whose mother has suffered a nervous breakdown. As one of the family’s teenaged daughters, Sullivan does unshowy, competent work in a cast including Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense), Anthony LaPaglia (Without A Trace, So I Married An Axe Murderer), and Liev Schreiber, last seen as the lead in Spanish director Paula Ortiz’ Across The River And Into The Trees earlier this year, and whose turn as Henry Kissinger in Guy Nattiv’s Golda is keenly anticipated (the film is currently in post-production).
But Sullivan first came to wider attention for her work opposite Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner, Harry Potter franchise, Spencer) in 2015’s Sucker, an Aussie take on the premise of The Sting, as the daughter of Spall’s character, an incorrigible confidence trickster.
Sullivan had a supporting role in the Daniel Radcliffe vehicle Jungle (2017), a real-life story about an Israeli adventurer who got lost in the Amazonian jungle for several weeks in 1981. And she had a starring role in the romantic drama series Picnic at Hanging Rock (2018) before landing the female lead in the film I Met A Girl, which was picked up by Netflix last year. The film tells the story of a schizophrenic man who embarks on a cross-country journey to meet the woman of his dreams (played by Sullivan), or so he thinks.
All of these productions were Australian, but the steady accumulation of good notices led to Sullivan landing a break in Hollywood. Sullivan’s American film debut is slated for next year. She will appear in the fifth installment of the Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead Rise, tentatively scheduled to be released in cinemas in April. Sullivan’s fellow cast members include Alyssa Sutherland (Vikings) and Morgan Davies (Storm Boy). But as a one-hander, Monolith offers Sullivan a unique opportunity to showcase her range of acting skills ahead of her Hollywood introduction.
Shooting for Monolith commenced in late May, and with its limited setting and single cast member, the project has benefited from an extremely quick turnaround in post-production. The movie premieres at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 27, 2022, before going into general release in Australian cinemas. Release dates for the European and North American markets have yet to be announced.