‘A Monster Calls’
4 out of 5
A monster calls is directed by J.A. Bayona and stars Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell with Liam Neeson as the voice of the monster. It tells the story of young Conor as he tries to deal with having a terminally ill mother (Jones), a strict grandmother (Weaver) an absent Father and bullies at school. As his loneliness increases the young boy is visited by a tree monster at night, who tells him that he will tell Conor three stories in exchange for the deep truth Conor is hiding.
The film swings between genuine emotional drama, grounded and real, to a dreamlike fantasy when the boy talks with the monster. It reminded me a lot of ‘Pans labyrinth’ in that the tone of both parts of the story should be jarring but the execution is so good that you become swept up in the moments. This is not the most complex of stories or even the most original but what separates this from other films like it is the performances and the emotional impact.
The stand out performance is by far young Lewis MacDougall as Conor, this is a heartbreaking turn from such a young actor and is at the same time both raw with emotion and subtlety underplayed. This is an actor with a massive future. Felicity Jones is also great although we are seeing her through the eyes of her son so we perhaps don’t see enough of her character as an actual person, simply as the ‘mum’. Sigourney Weaver is also fine as the grandmother, although her english accent can be distracting. Toby Kebbell is probably the strongest supporting character as he seems the most realised apart from our lead, he isn’t just the ‘absent father’ he is human and flawed but also has the closest the film comes to funny lines.Liam Nesson’s monster is what you would expect, stern and weathered but warm underneath.
One of the most interesting things the film does is, as the monster tells his stories, they play out on screen in beautiful animation and are not quiet the normal fairy tales we expect. As the story builds toward the climax we begin to piece together the meanings of the fables and when Conor reveals his truth it is a gut wrenching moment that will surely make even the hardest of film fans shed a tear. The film always looks and sounds beautiful and the story packs an emotional punch while the performances are excellent but this has flaws. The school bully is a cartoon character is purely a plot device. While not many characters are fully fleshed out this is the worst example. Part of the reason we don’t get lots of character work seems to be because the film is entirely from the boys perspective, which generally works well, but a scene or two between the other characters to establish some background or show their relationships may have helped the audience care even more. The emotional heft of the film will not be to everyones taste and at times it is laid on a bit thick, however I feel this will become the film people show their kids to help them understand loss.
It’s message of understanding illness and learning to let go are beautifully told and the way the story is broken up by the monsters appearances help the pacing and the story flourish. See this film and bring tissues and you’ll see a beautifully constructed take on the simplest and most human of stories told in a fantastical way.