By: Dorian Parks
A Monster Calls is a powerhouse of emotion matched with a colorful palette of visuals.
The first time I watched the trailer for A Monster Calls, I already knew that I would be in store for an emotional journey; mostly telling from the tears that ran down my face. Now with that said, you cannot imagine how much I cried during the actual film.
Now that I’m done sounding like a sobbing sap, A Monster Calls follows a young boy named Conor O’Malley (played by Lewis MacDougall) who’s struggling to cope with his mother’s sickness. The film is penned by Patrick Ness, the author of the novel it was adapted from. Although this would be his first film to be produced, I believe he proved to be the best option for adapting the novel into screenplay form. He was able to minimize the story and find what works on-screen that otherwise would only work on paper. At the helm of the director’s chair is Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who has recently been tapped for the upcoming Jurassic World sequel. His techniques proved to be useful in making audiences witness emotions, as well as feel them. The film is Lewis MacDougall’s first proper exposure to the screen, and he packs a punch of emotion that displays the young talent’s skills to act in some tough situations. I’ve never been a huge fan of child actors, as there are many that don’t demonstrate much skill, so I’m really impressed when someone as young as MacDougall comes along and presents a worthy performance. It’s worth noting that most of his scenes are shot alone, and he has to imagine the large spectacle of effects that audiences get to experience. If he isn’t imagining a giant three-story sized giant in his scenes, he’s expressing the inner turmoil of a child losing a mother, and with strong execution as well. Although MacDougall is the true shining star of the film, the remaining main cast give notable performances. MacDougall spends a significant amount of time paired with a giant tree monster that he’s imagined. The Monster is voiced by Liam Neeson, whom he spends much of his time narrating fantasy stories with unexpected lessons in his somber, deep voice. Bayona utilizes colorful animations that play like a live action story book in order to convey the tales. This artistic choice adds to feeling that this is a child’s experience. I believe this added to finding the inner child of the viewers, in order to help place them in Conor’s shoes. Felicity Jones plays Conor’s sick mother, and is able to present a fighting spirit in an otherwise withering body. Sigourney Weaver brings her strong demeanor as Conor’s cold grandmother, who holds more to the surface than her stern attitude.
As ambitious and great as I find Bayona’s direction of this film, I do witness some struggles. The gripping visuals can be very powerful, as he utilizes just as much imagery as one can for a story filled with imaginable pieces of a child’s nightmare, but at the same time this can cause the film to be too on the nail at times. This is where I feel the film will divide the viewers. It’s either the emotional moments will hit you really hard and you’ll truly feel it, or audiences will feel like they’re being drowned in too much droll to the point of overselling, thus not allowing the emotional chords to be strung. Thankfully I found myself to be the former, and I know many others that did as well, but there’s a good batch (perhaps even an equal amount of people) who found it to be too bleak. With all that said, I truly recommend it to my fellow movie lovers, you may witness a fine spectacle of a film, or you may experience one of the most heartfelt films you’ve ever seen. I’m eager to see what the rest of the world thinks about it.
A Monster Calls released on October 7th, 2016 and releases in select theaters in the United States on December 23rd, 2016 and a wider release on January 6th, 2017.