According to National Geographic, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from the North to Mexico every year. Just like the lifespan of the average butterfly, the protagonist of Alexis Gambis’s sophomore endeavour resembles a similar time frame in comparison to these fluttering invertebrates. Taking place over the span of approximately eight months, Son of Monarchs follows Mendel — an ambitious young scientist who is in the middle of coming to terms with his own identity and familiar trauma. The film tackles a variety of different subjects and themes that all link back to the metaphor of a monarch butterfly and the connective tissue between Mendel and his family. Mixing in traditional latin heritage and detailed dissections on bioengineering, Son of Monarchs unfortunately suffers from a well-intentioned lack of focus.

Starting strong with the funeral and procession of Mendel’s grandmother, Son of Monarchs demonstrates plenty of great setups and payoffs within its opening act. The more the film focuses on Mendel’s family and friends, the more satisfying and rich the film becomes in its unique representation of Mexican culture. Submerged in a pool of personal memory, Gambis shows a great amount of visual flair and compassion for his subjects. The film takes a downturn for the worse however, when the story abruptly shifts to a metropolitan setting. Challenging Mendel and his pre-established grief-stricken ordeals, Gambis fails to capture the same emotionally investing dynamics when toying with a gentrified set of characters. 

Son of Monarchs becomes a derivative slog once it reaches its momentous peak. As we follow Mendel on his journey of supposed self discovery, the film becomes an incomprehensible mess as it attempts to comment on the current state of politics, science, evolution, spirituality and the feebleness of the internal psyche. Cardinal cinematic sins such as needless relationship subplots, unnecessary flashbacks, and repetitive character arcs continuously slog the film’s pace down. As soon as Son of Monarchs edges out its emotional climax, Mendel’s tale becomes essentially pointless. There is simply not enough stakes nor emotional weight to justify his journey. Even the creative artistic decision of interchanging locations between New York City and Michocá becomes suffocating in its narrative pointlessness. 

Amplified by an array of impressive technical detail, it’s unfortunate to see a film such as Son of Monarchs falter after a satisfying opening. Gambis demonstrates an impressive talent for visual storytelling — bordering on acute surrealism and a distinct amount of attention towards unique landscapes and cultural backdrops. But as a work of commentary and as a detailed examination on the cycles of grief, Son of Monarchs falters in its misguided structure and plodding filler. But if there’s one thing to be hopeful for, is that the metamorphosis of Gambis’ career has only just begun. Son of Monarchs is merely just a minor setback in a filmography that’s destined to reach great heights in the coming years. 

Dir: Alexis Gambis

Scr: Alexis Gambis

Cast: Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Alexia Rasmussen, Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez

DOP: Alejandro Mejía

Country: Mexico/USA

Year: 2021

Runtime: 97 minutes

Son of Monarchs premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as part of the NEXT category. The film will screen again virtually on January 31st. Son of Monarchs is also seeking International Distribution.

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David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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