The young girlfriend of a pension fraudster is on the run. A Synesthesia-suffering investigator is after her. Monochrome parallels two character journeys, eventually interlocking, and transcending into a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Monochrome begins with an externally shot house raid in London, displaying Emma Rose (Land Girls’ Jo Woodcock) hiding behind a car as her (older) boyfriend is arrested on suspicion of pension fraud, stealing £700 million. When the ghost is clear, Emma is able to sneak back into the house to retrieve essentials before embarking on a journey to anywhere north.
Now the fun starts… After waking up on a park bench in the countryside, Emma spots a verbal altercation between pompous, post-prime artist, Roger Daniels (Braveheart’s James Cosmo) and his house servant of sorts. Of course, Emma seeks an opportunity here, and manages to convince Roger to hire her…for free. No pay whatsoever.
On the other side of the law, there is Gabriel Leonard (Lady Macbeth’s Cosmo Jarvis). Hired by the new and slightly secretive BCA (British Crime Agency) as an investigator, Gabriel has the ability to see what others cannot – his neurological condition advances him from the regular detective in crime solving. Opposite to Emma again, Gabriel lives at home with his elderly mum and is socially awkward to an extent.
Roger Daniels is central to the first connection of Emma and Gabriel’s stories – Emma is his slave, whilst Gabriel is a fan of his artwork. Emma’s position of slavery progresses from Roger learning of Emma’s wanted status from a newspaper cover, thus he is now in a position of sadistic power and control over Emma. Emma is subsequently dubbed as “The Countryside Killer” before moving onto unpaid work for a wealthy couple in Warwickshire and then a former footballer’s WAG in Cheshire.
Gabriel desires to go out of his way to observe the murder scene of Roger Daniels, and additionally show an interest in the case involving Emma and her fraudster boyfriend, before eventually establishing a connection. Though advised to keep his nose out by the likes of the legitimately horrible, Agent Walcott (Great Night Out’s Lee Boardman), Gabriel trusts his instincts anyway and risks everything from his life to the operation and the life expectancy of the BCA. Is Gabriel right to chase Emma?
Jo Woodcock is flat-out terrifying as Emma. Any moment when her employers are rude or generally horrible, we are expecting Emma to snap at any moment– Woodcock’s acting establishes tense build-ups to any action, but the underlying horror is that we don’t know what she is going to do, what she is capable of etc. The fact that an eventual sadistic serial killer looks so young – almost teenage-like – contributes to the visual horror that exists in Monochrome.
Admirably, Cosmo Jarvis’ performance seems very convincing, though this is aided by terrific, but heavily-edited POV shots, suggesting what it is like to live with his condition. The real gem in acting lies within the warmth and chemistry between Gabriel and his HR mentor/supervisor, Agent Randall Grey (Spectre’s Patrice Naiambana). From Star Wars to The Devil’s Advocate, we love to see the mentor figure, and Monochrome successfully adds to that realm of admiration.
Monochrome is fantastic in its approach of placing the viewer within the position of either of its central characters (Emma and Gabriel) – though this is its moralistic downfall. The alignment is often instigated by centralised shots of the character and POVs – Gabriel’s POVs are simply terrific as mentioned. To be in the position of the character, but then witness said character commit a horrific murder, this is simply disturbing for the viewer.
Structurally, Monochrome’s first act or so is unsatisfyingly weak – too many static shots in the wrong places, therefore lacking intensity, depth and heart. Monochrome does evolve into a very entertaining film though, during the second act when both Emma and Gabriel are drawn closer together. The third act, however, is ridiculous – total unrealism occurs, and there is a slight sense of betrayal in the story-telling, though to succeed the craziness that has occurred, maybe it is excusable to have a less-than-realistic finale.
Though there is a serious lack of character development (regarding Gabriel especially), director Thomas Lawes (Amaryllis) has created an indie spectacle of which successfully mixes aspects of crime drama, thriller, horror and even black comedy. Of course, it is quite likely that Monochrome will put some off, depending on one’s stance regarding violence in film.
Ultimately, Monochrome should only be viewed if you are prepared to witness the murdersome atrocities that occur. Violence aside, Monochrome does present an interesting social commentary on money and wealth in society. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Monochrome does live on to be a VOD classic and cult British film.