A Monster Calls is a fantasy drama about a young boy, Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), whose mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness. In his attempts to deal with it he summons a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who helps him through the ordeal. Directed by J. A. Bayona it is adapted from Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, with a screenplay also by Ness.
As well as dealing with his mother’s illness the film also follows Conor dealing with a grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) that he is not close to but had to move in with, a distant father (Toby Kebbell), and a school bully. The Monster tells stories to Conor that all tie into helping him with these problems as well as dealing with his mother’s illness. I love the way that the story is told, it does that brilliant thing that fantasy allows us to do, which is explore very real world things and emotions, but in a fantastical way. It’s a great blending of some heavy emotional themes and fantasy story telling.
This is clearly an extremely emotionally charged story, and is designed to elicit an emotional response from the audience. The only problem with this for me is that I actually never got hit that hard emotionally by the film. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been in that situation so I couldn’t relate, but it never really got me. And I am a sucker for good emotional story telling (I cry at a good 90% of Disney films). I don’t think this will be true of everyone, A Monster Calls really is a ‘tearjerker’ of a film, and I think it will a lot of people, especially those who can relate to Conor’s situation and feelings, will find it extremely emotional.
That said I thought most of the other aspects of the film were excellent, starting with the cast. Lewis MacDougall has to carry so much of the film on his shoulders, and he does a brilliant job. I think it’s a very mature performance for the most part, he actually has a lot going on under the surface, which isn’t the easiest thing to achieve as an actor, and let’s it all out when he has to. Considering he’s such a young actor only previous major role was a supporting one in Pan, it’s a very impressive performance. The supporting cast around him is all very good, especially Sigourney Weaver, but this is MacDougall’s film, and he makes the most of it.
I think Bayona’s direction on the film is brilliant. The way he changes the visual style, to watercolours to tell some of the stories with the story, is brilliant. As well as bringing a beautiful new visual style to parts of the film, it’s also very in keeping with the fact that Conor’s character is a keen drawer, as was his mother. Bayona also keeps the film moving at a good pace, but still allowing the time in between the monster’s appearances for the real life drama, meaning that it is still really engaging throughout. I loved that he keeps back whether the monster is real or merely a dream, as that ultimately isn’t the point of A Monster Calls.
A Monster Calls did a great job of telling an extremely emotional and difficult story with nice fantastical elements. It doesn’t shy away from the more difficult parts of Conor’s situation, and whilst I didn’t feel the full force of the emotion in the film, many people will do, and I still enjoyed it regardless.