Director: J. A. Bayona
Starring: Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson (voice)
If you’re reading this, you may be thinking “hang about…this film isn’t even released until early 2017”. And, you’d be correct. But we have a not-so-secret weapon – London Film Festival. Following on from my exclusive, advance review of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi flick ‘Arrival’, I present to you my opinion on another standout film from this year’s festival.
Based on the book by Patrick Ness, and adapted for the big screen by the author himself, ‘A Monster Calls’ tells the story of a boy named Connor (MacDougall) who seeks the help of a tree monster (Neeson) to cope with his mother’s terminal illness. Whilst you might have seen fantasy films about monsters, and stories or dramas about families ripped apart by cancer, or even a fairly similar looking tree monster in a certain Marvel film, I can guarantee you will not see a film which so beautifully and expertly ties these three things together. It seems like an unlikely match, but the way J.A. Bayona constructs this narrative, and weaves each element together, will have you wondering why all films of this nature can’t be made in such a way.
If you’ve read the book, like I have, then you’ll know what to expect, but even then, this film will still completely devastate you in ways you didn’t even think were possible. Think of the last film which ripped your heart out and tore it into a million pieces. Okay, now times that feeling tenfold, and you have some idea as to what ‘A Monster Calls’ will do to you. Whilst the subject matter is undeniably devastating, it is the performances which really reinforce this emotion-shattering story. Lewis MacDougall has an awful lot to carry on his young shoulders, but he pulls it off like a seasoned pro, destroying your emotions and leaving you a blubbering wreck with a single look. Felicity Jones is also amazing as Connor’s ailing mother, but it is sadly the nature of the story which means she isn’t in a huge number of scenes, and I honestly think if she had have had more screen time she’d be guaranteed an Oscar nomination.
What sets this film apart from others which have covered similar themes is not just the way it expertly ties in the more fantastical elements, but the way in which it presents these visually. There are some animated segments which are absolutely glorious, slightly reminiscent of the sequence from ‘The Deathly Hallows’, and deliberately crafted to give the appearance of intricate watercolour paintings, leaping straight from the paper and coming to life. Thematically, too, this film is unbelievably rich, covering issues like grief, loss, and coping mechanisms, in a way which is both easy to digest, yet wonderfully, and endlessly innovative. It has some imagery which will imprint itself on you so vividly that you’ll be unable to shake it. Where a film like ‘Inside Out’ could be used to help kids make sense of their emotions and feelings, ‘A Monster Calls’ could easily be used as a means of conveying exactly how grief feels in all of its stages, providing a level of understanding which is both simple and gloriously complex. Add to this, Fernando Velázquez’s score, which hits all the right notes. This musical accompaniment is poignant and touching where it needs to be, but with a playful edge as well. It’s a score I could easily see myself listening to outside of the film, although it does run the risk of making me weep openly.
It’s hard to find a fault in this film, and really, the only thing for me was that there was a slight lull in the middle portion of the story, when it was starting to feel ever so slightly repetitive. However, it then delivers the absolute heart-break that is the final act, and all can be forgiven.
‘A Monster Calls’ is a stunning little film; one that looks beautiful and has a beautifully touching storyline to match. It conveys complex and layered emotional themes in a completely unique and utterly unforgettable manner, which makes it really stand out from other films which have tackled similar themes. Take plenty of tissues with you for this one – you have been warned!
Sarah’s rating: 9.2 out of 10