Matt Vasely’s single-location, high concept, sci-fi has been in a minor purgatory since it received positive notices on the festival circuit a few years back. Finally getting the wider release it deserves, this densely plotted little gem demonstrates a filmmaker with a knack for maximising limited resources and for making the viewer deeply creeped out through little more than a single room and one woman with a microphone.

That woman is unnamed journalist (Lily Sullivan) dealing with professional disgrace after failing to carry out due diligence on a source in an earlier role. Known only as ‘the Interviewer’, she’s now trying to salvage her reputation on a small mystery and hoaxes podcast. On receipt of an anonymous email that gives a name, number, and the enigmatic word, ‘brick’, she becomes embroiled in a potential conspiracy that reaches across the globe, and possibly beyond terrestrial boundaries.

The brick turns out to be one of several strange black bars, made of an unknown substance, but which are filled with arcane symbols of personal significance to all who receive them. As the Interviewer delves deeper into the mystery through a series of phone calls, the intricate, patient storytelling encompasses themes of class, family, guilt, and obsession to fine effect. Each new development feels like another turn of a thumbscrew, a winding of tension that only becomes tauter and more compelling, weird, and unsettling the deeper down the rabbit hole the Interviewer journeys.

As the Interviewer Lily Sullivan demonstrates her versatility as an actress. After giving an intensely physical performance in Evil Dead Rise, she shoulders like Atlas an almost entirely cerebral exercise here. It’s a difficult role, particularly during the frequent instances in which she’s reacting to a disembodied speaking voice. However, she handles the responsibility incredibly well, unspooling her character gradually as her priorities shift fluidly from naked self-interest, to finely-honed professional instincts, to virtual obsession.

Sullivan is supported by some superlative voice acting across a number of roles; interviewees, cranks, colleagues, and family members. It’s to the greatest of credit to Sullivan, Vesely, and writer Lucy Campbell, that the paranoia to which the Interviewer succumbs begins to feel not only sympathetic, but a completely rational response.

Monolith draws from various sources across the sci-fi spectrum, from 2001 to Assassin’s Creed, but has its own distinct personality. Vesely’s impressionistic asides depicting the visions suffered by some of the owners of the bricks indicate that he’s constantly thinking visually and cinematically, and he litters the film with motifs and symbols. Monolith is a fascinating and chilling film, albeit one that ever-so-slightly tails off at its ambiguous denouement. But the journey to get there is a wonderful example of minimalist, intelligent sci-fi that deserve to be mentioned alongside the likes of Primer and Coherence, not least in how it invites eager repeated viewings.

Available on digital platforms from Mon 26 Feb 2024