Movie Review: A Monster Calls

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Director: J.A. Bayona

Writers: Patrick NessSiobhan Dowd

Stars:  Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones

Verdict: A joy

WARNING! WARNING! I WAS A LITTLE BIT HUNGOVER WHEN I WATCHED THIS MOVIE! I did it for Black Mountain Poets it’s only fair I give equal treatment. 

A Monster Calls, is in a sense a modern fairytale, although it also has some other framed fairytales in it. The plot is this; Conor has problems, his mother has cancer, his Dad lives in America and his Grandmum, the only person left to care for Conor, has a lot of trouble expressing her emotions and being warm or well, motherly. He’s also bullied by kids that seem like Draco Malfoy but violent and actually mean instead of just an entitles prick. He then sees a monster of the title who says I will tell you three stories, at at the end you will tell me a fourth and it will be your truth. 

I loved this film, I thought it was powerful, poignant, visuallly ravishing, and heartbreaking. It’s the type of film they don’t make anymore, a properly emotional family film. It’s score compose by Fernando Velázquez, (Crimson Peak, Mama), feels like it would be a good match for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Railway Children or Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I mean of course it’s British they all are, we have a really good taste for bittersweet melancholia I think. It’s set in the grim houseing blocks that seem lifted out of Scott & Bailey in which the best of those films took place, and like the best of those films, it sublimely blends heartbreaking and uplifting. I tell you right now, if my eyes weren’t already caked in hangover I would have shed buckets, I did shed a tear but I also chocked up in the way you do when you cry, many times, just without the actual waterworks coming. That being said, the actal message of the film is uplifting a hell, and one that is universal, and true, it really feels like it comes from a place of honesty. 

The central performance of Connor from Lewis MacDougall, (Pan) is lovely. He does have hints of that sort of child performance where he’s really trying to act and it’s bleedingly obvious, but that’s rare and he really plays it with intensity and honesty that more often than not only comes from children. He also has this really angular and expressive face etched in child like innocence that beleis his potential for honest intensity. 

It’s effects are breathtaking. While the more surreal incedents take place you can feel how they would really work on page but then that also means that it’s only more incredible how cinematic the sequences are. How well it’s translated cinematically. At the points when the giant is telling his stories it breaks into wonderful hand drawn animations and watercolours that are just astonishing and expressive and beautiful. The giant is also possitively terrifying, at least he would be to the target audience of this film, and he’s realised wonderfully not only visually but also his voice, which is done by Liam Neeson, (Schindler’s List, Taken). Lian Neeson is quickly joining the likes of Morgan Freeman, (The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en), and Lawrence Olivier, (Rebecca, Marathon Man), as actors with just extraordiarily cinematic voices. Gary Oldman can do it too but he only breaks it out for the really cool roles like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The bass of Neeson’s voice may have been incresed in post but it’s still perfect casting. 

The rest of the supporting performances are also on point. Toby Kebbel, (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Warcraft: The Beginning) is really good but not showy as the Dad who’s much better at the friend side of being a Dad than the Dad part of being a Dad. Sigourney Weaver, (Alien) can do an English accent; who knew? And Felicity Jones is actually really, really good as the Mum. I didn’t like her at all  in Rogue One (I actually remember thinking she was allright in romance trash Like Crazy) but she really shows mature acting chops here. 

This film was directed by J.A. Bayona who made The Orphanage, the Spanish version, which was produced by Guillermo del Toro, which incedentally my video game design friend who I’ve mentioned frequently on this blog, made a video essay of for his media A Level. I do think that this film owes something to some of del Toro’s work like Pan’s Labyrinth. They both explore the boundary between reality and imaginary fantasy and children escaping from worlds of crippling sadness and unhappiness into something fantastical but which is also in ways equally as threatening. I do think Pan’s Labyrinth may well be better, but I defintely enjoyed this more.

When I first saw the trailer for this I thought it looked like The BFG again beause well that film was in theatres but it’s so not. It might be a bit sad but it is also really happy don’t worry, it’s not misery porn. It’s really good, bring tissues. 

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