Okay, I’ll admit it—I’m a sucker for serial killers. I find them absolutely fascinating. But to be truthful, I’ve always found myself rooting for the villain in, well, pretty much everything. They’re just so much more interesting than the heroes! Electric Flix’s Monochrome, released in the U.S. on March 3, 2017, allowed me indulge this darker side of my personality, albeit in a different way than the usual.
In most serial killer movies, the killer normally is already well on their way to homicidal infamy when the story starts. The difference with Monochrome is that we’re are shown the development of a murderous proclivity in someone who wasn’t all that inclined to be a murderer in the first place. And it’s all because people are jerks.
Emma Rose is on the run from the law. Her banker boyfriend has stolen £700,000,000 (or $948,252,200 in U.S. currency) from his place of employment and hidden it in various off-shore accounts. As one might imagine, people are a little miffed. The newly formed British Crime Agency wants to question Emma, hoping she might know where the money is hidden. To that end, they assign brand-spanking new officer Gabriel Lenard to the case. Lenard has a unique form of synesthesia—he can hear color and see sound.
On the lamb, Emma first offers her services as a maid and caregiver to wealthy artist Roger Daniels who, once realizing that the police consider her a person of interest, begins to treat her like a slave. He even makes her wear a special dog collar with a GPS tracking system that will alert him if she removes it or leaves the property. After months of ill-treatment, Emma discovers her newest obsession—murder. With Lenard and other officers on her trail, she moves from cruel employer to cruel employer (and therefore victim to victim) to escape them.
I have to say that I was quite surprised to see some relatively big names among the cast. James Cosmo, whom many of you might recognize from movies like Braveheart, Highlander, The Patriot, Trainspotting, and Troy, gave a spectacular performance as the horribly mean and self-obsessed artist Roger Daniels. He was so good in this role that you were actually glad for him to die.
The adorable Jo Woodcock played our murderess Emma Rose. Like Cosmo, Woodcock has also played in some major works, such as the 2009 horror film Dorian Gray. Normally, I prefer serial killers to be a little more emotive but Woodcock’s sullen performance fit the character in this case. After all, her boyfriend had just pinned the largest theft in history on her, she’d been held captive for months by a self-obsessed artist, and was generally mistreated by everyone she met. No matter where she went, she was taken in (and taken advantage of) by horrible people—which would drive anyone over the cliff, frankly. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Emma while at the same time gleefully smiling at her victims.
The character of Gabriel Lenard was played by Cosmo Jarvis. His performance as the quiet and quirky detective was genuinely endearing. He was another character that I couldn’t help but like. I mean, here he is starting a brand new job with the British Crime Agency, he’s quiet and somewhat awkward, and he’s treated like an outcast for his synesthesia. I just wanted to hug him.
Finally, Lee Boardman (Jack the Giant Slayer, Rome) who played Agent Walcott. Walcott was your archetypal good-cop-gone-bad and he plays a pretty pivotal role in the film. He’s kind of a jerk from the beginning, playing something of an antagonist to Detective Lenard but you don’t really suspect just how low he’d sunk until the end of the film. The rest of the cast delivered solid performances.
The sound volume throughout the film was very low. Normally, the volume on my television is set to pretty low-level for most films. For this movie, I had to turn the volume as high as it would go just to hear the conversation. That one issue aside, I never felt as though the music was drowning out the dialogue nor did it seem out of sync with the action. It was just quiet.
I’m still trying to figure out why the film was titled Monochrome but I do have a theory. Bear with me because this does have to do with the cinematography.
At first, I wondered if it had something to do with Lenard’s synesthesia but he was able to see colors without issue. Not to mention that, generally, “monochrome” means something that’s in various shades of a single color. It makes the theorist in me wonder if the title is a statement on the actions of the characters themselves or perhaps on people in general. After all, Emma was a murderer and the main villain of the film. But was she any worse than the people who willfully mistreated her and who were actually criminals in their own right? Were her crimes worse than the thieving boyfriend who left hundreds of thousands of pensioners to starve? What about the land developers who had swindled people out of their life-savings?
Or is it all just shades of grey?
As I watched the film, I started to realize that the only time color was represented vividly was when the audience was seeing from Lenard’s perspective (as if looking out of his eyes). The rest of the film, although shot in color, was dull and washed out. The lighting and filters used gave the overall coloring of the film an almost monotone look. This could, in theory at least, support an argument like the one I’ve presented above.
All in all, Monochrome was a great film that held my interest till the end. I truly enjoyed watching the progression of Emma as a murderer. I only wish they’d have developed the reasoning behind her decisions a bit more, though. For example, while Emma’s turning point was explained to some degree (a history of ill-treatment at the hands of others), the scenes in the artist’s home that pushed her over the edge felt a little half-hearted.