Monkey Boy (2009)

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Monkey Boy (2009)
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Monkey Boy
Horror
Chango Film, Chemical Burn Entertainment
March 16th, 2009 / September 9, 2014
Release length: 1:16:00

2009’s Monkey Boy is an Italian Horror fairy tale from the mind of Antonio Monti, his first outing not only as screenwriter alongside Chiara Parodi and Davide Zagnoli (Il giardino del sonno), but also his directorial debut. The film is touted as being the tale of a freak who lived in the cellar until his handler is killed, carrying a “There are no bloodless fairy tales” tagline to play up the brutal reality behind the majestic start. It’s also the tale of an autistic girl, and how this creature plays a major role in her life. Of course, this summary is biref and a bit misleading in this winner of 2010 American Horror “Bury Award”, a film that was also nominated in three other festivals. Eventually, Monkey Boy was picked up for distribution through Chemical Burn Entertainment, able to reach a much broader audience who couldn’t attend any of these screening festivities. But does this film stand as a beautifully harsh realization to the whimsical worlds we tell our children, or is there something more afoot within?

Monkey Boy isn’t entirely about the character it’s titled after, but rather The Inspector (Giampiero Bartolini, Ogni volta che te ne vai ) and his daughter Agata (Giovanna Gardelli) who make up the main cast of the fairy tale the lives of this group become the inspiration for. This little tale is gorgeously outlined at the start of the film through beautiful artwork and a rough yet soothing narration from a man who clearly sounds as though he has aged through quite an ordeal over the years. This tale ends up being about a king and his daughter, a girl who loves exploring the many homes of their castle, save for one her father has strictly forbid her from going into. During her life, her mother died. With Agata at her mother’s side, the daughter is told to mind over two dice, one of bony and the other of ivory, leading to deceit that traps the child in a mirror that can’t be broken by any normal man.

This introduction is actually fairly important to the story and is often revisited throughout the film to keep the fairy tale aspect and its correlation to the real life events in mind, challenging the viewer to grasp how the two are wound together. The execution, however, winds up being a bit shaky at best. There are short glimpses into the cast of characters after a robbery sends Monkey Boy out into the world for the first time. A character with no past, he happens upon a woman that ends up being labelled “The Whore”, a link which bonds everyone to the same timeline thanks to an attack from Monkey Boy himself on her pimp. From here, the bumbling policemen, The Lieutenant, his daughter, as well as The Chief (Gianni Fantoni (Operazione Rosmarino, The Friends at the Margherita Cafe) are introduced into the equation.

Monkey Boy

It’s hard to really break down the story within the story, as by doing so greatly affects the impact when it all comes together. Everyone gets some quick backstory that not only explains their general attitude, much like the daughter and why she seems to be mentally retarded, and why “The Chief” is such an arrogant prick to everyone in the series. You quickly care for these players thanks to these brief flashbacks, leading to the main theme of the film: Communication, or rather a lack thereof.

One thing established right away after the opening introduction is that, really, Monkey Boy (Andrea Melli, Il giardino del sonno) himself is just acting on instinct. Having never taken care of itself or put in a position where he had to survive on his own, he goes out not quite to explore, but rather for someone to help take care of him. This is proven later on when a childish request for food leads to pure chaos by its inability to relay the hunger or act it out in a way we as humans would commonly understand. The daughter is also aware of some things going on that the other officers and her own father know nothing about since she is unable to talk, unless you count screaming when something goes wrong like one of the die being out of sight.

Monkey Boy

Along the way, certain scenes replay to show a different angle or another character’s perspective of the events, which also helps build the motives and drive of certain people. While helpful to the progression of the story itself, it also pads the film out, not to mention the main recounts of the fairy tale itself and really long credit sequence afterwards. If you were to remove some of the repeating factors of the film, Monkey Boy would come in not as a feature length film, but rather a short one that could easily span an hour long commercially interrupted television special. While this does cause the road moving forward to be rather bumpy at times, you’ll be glad they exist as, until the very end, there’s little correlation between the main story and the fairy tale other than which person in the latter is the character from the former.

The film itself is always really dark after the gothic fairytale start since Monkey Boy seems to span across twenty-four hours. There’s also a nice contrast between this time and the past thanks to the use of bright lights, sometimes being a bit over-saturated, in order to break things apart and segway beyond the character title cards that crop up before the small amount of development. These are all often quite emotionally scarring, showing nearly everyone had gone through some sort of embarrassment or pain at some point. “The Captain” has to constantly stop due to a prostate issue, which all ends up linked to an unclear memory of some woman (possibly his mother) pulling his pants down as a kid in front of company and them laughing at him, or showing them he had wet himself (it really isn’t too clear). And then there’s the memory of the mother’s death that The Lieutenant and Agata are in the same room for, which is absolutely horrific and speaks volumes to those two at this point in their lives. There’s also a bit of background to Monkey Boy at the very end following the dumping of a woman’s dead baby and (hopefully) stillborn kitten, leading to his discovery.

Monkey Boy

And then there’s the acting to consider which, for the most part, was fairly well done. There are a few side characters who got their point across in a fairly short amount of time, such as the pimp and the cross-dresser who lives next door to the lieutenant and Agata, coming off like a wicked witch but is clearly just a lonely loon in a psychic/spiritual way, offering the iconic red apple one familiar with Snow White and The Seven Dwarves will be reminded of. The rest, however, vary in their delivery.

The lack of speaking from pretty much all the characters leaves a lot open to physical expression. The dialogue isn’t always executed as well as it could be outside the narrations, but the movements of everyone are key, and often don’t add much. Sometimes they seem to just be walking or running in a scripted manner, such as when the call comes into the Lieutenant to come out to a murder and he and Agata are going from room to room getting ready. But then there’s the chemistry between them all, which only ends up believable in a stale Spanish soap opera manner. Even when the father freaks out, it just seems like it’s a slightly angered version of the largely blank stare he carries with him the whole time, as if waiting for directions as to what to do or feel next.

Monkey Boy

When it comes down to execution, this film doesn’t quite manage to reach the levels the introductory fairy tale narrative sets into play. In fact, it’s like watching a one-off soap opera from a latino cast on an american broadcast between season reveals. But, when you look at it from a story angle. Sometimes it can be bumpy, but it makes the blow of the final minutes all the more painful. You immediately feel for these main characters as you watch them go through something far more gut wrenching than that extensive start led you to believe. Most of all, you’ll be absolutely heartbroken for the Lieutenant and Agata come the end of the film due to everything they went through up to and including that point when the mirror breaks. If you can look past the sub-par acting, Monkey Boy is a story driven, visual, as well as atmospheric treat that is as moving as it is a must see experience.


Overall Score: 7/10
Physical review copy of this release provided by Chemical Burn Entertainment.