A Monster Calls, 2016.
Directed by J.A Bayona.
Starring Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, and Geraldine Chaplin.
A boy seeks the help of a Tree monster to help his mother with her terminal illness.
Here is a swift foolproof process on how to determine whether or not someone has a soul: Show them A Monster Calls, and if they are deeply moved, then all is right. If they feel nothing, smack that person across the face. Or just politely ask “what the f***is wrong with you”.
Based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls sees director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) covering heavy material and themes he is no stranger to, this time with a giant humanoid Lian Neeson voiced yew tree monster. The titular Monster visits young Conor (Lewis MacDougall) every night at 12:07 AM sharp with the intent to tell the boy three different fairy tales, and then in return take a story for himself (which is actually a reoccurring nightmare that won’t go away).
The purpose of each of the three stories is to guide and act as a coping mechanism for Conor, who is facing the harsh reality that in the very near future, a world where his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness has taken her from him far too soon might become reality. Bullied without remorse by other children at school, fatherless (the boy’s dad, played by Toby Kebbell, divorced his wife and started over with a new family in America shortly after learning of the illness), and unable to bond with his distant and old-fashioned grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), to adults it is very clear that the monster is a manifestation of his own hyperactive creative mind. This is all brilliantly conveyed by some masterful editing techniques during the beginning and ending of each storytelling sequence that illuminates to audiences Conor’s mental state and the results of his imagination running wild.
A Monster Calls is a children’s fairytale itself, although admittedly one targeted more at teenagers and adults, but the uncompromising creative mindset to depict this real world grounded situation as raw and real as possible is what transcends the film from sappy tearjerker into a legitimate emotional juggernaut piece of art that isn’t just a beautiful time at the movies for the average person, but one that people in similar situations should actively seek out. The lessons of the three stories aren’t exactly difficult to interpret accurately, but they all contain genuinely thoughtful messages that will resonate with more demographics than just kids. The reminder that human beings are complex in nature, and that not everything in the world can be chalked up as good or bad, alone is one that works on multiple levels and not just a metaphor for The Monster expressing truthful dynamics about Conor’s family.
The stories themselves are brought to life with splendid animation reminiscent of children’s books drawings, as the motives and goals of each individual character are narrated by Liam Neeson. Outside of The Monster, there isn’t a single voice actor, which works; some of my favorite moments of the movie are simply watching these beautiful illustrations along with uncovering their meaning and how they relate to the story at hand. Surprisingly, the first one is actually very dark and filled with some unexpected violence plus sinister acts. Getting back to the voicework from Liam Neeson, he is absolutely perfect for the role, as his deep commanding voice can also be a gentle wise one that allows the stories and lessons to further stick.
Even outside of the stories within a story, A Monster Calls has some striking shot composition, most notably a wide view of The Monster walking through an old graveyard with the boy, with a bright orange hue from the sun engulfing the picture. The Monster himself has an incredible amount of CGI detail all over his body, whether it be leaves or roots. However, even more impressive is the startling and heartwrenching transformation of Conor’s mom as her terminal illness gradually gets worse and worse over the course of the film. Compound that with the fantastic acting from Felicity Jones for a truly special performance. Credit also goes to Lewis MacDougall; he carries the majority of the emotional weight on his back, allowing us to sympathize with him throughout every second of the film’s running time.
Look, I understand Steven Spielberg is at the forefront of big-budget special effects technology and did some dazzling things bringing The BFG to life, but when it comes down to it, the movie itself was boring and unable to connect with anyone but a child. A Monster Calls is the real deal; an emotional journey that utilizes humanity and fantasy to tell a story that is the very definition of compelling, and will leave viewers in tears. It may not be directed by Steven Spielberg, but it certainly has his magic. No wonder Bayona is set to direct Jurassic World 2.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★