Are you in need of a good cry? Apparently I was; a bawling, blubbering mess of a man sitting by himself in a dark theater. Embarrassing as it may be, it was also an extremely cathartic and refreshing experience.
“A Monster Calls” is not only one of the most unique films of the year but also the most emotionally stirring. Almost gratuitously overflowing with metaphor and symbolism, it is a remarkably executed tale of a boy coping with the harsh travails of life. It touches you right to the core and, although delivered fantastical, the message is delivered perfectly.
Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a boy coming to terms with his mother’s impending death. He is a quiet, tormented artist feeling alone in the world, on the verge of self-destruction. His imagination carries him through his mother’s final days, and although his world is shattered, he learns to continue living without her.
Surrounding MacDougall are Felicity Jones in a moving performance as his mother, Sigourney Weaver as his grandmother and Liam Neeson as the voice of the magnificent monster. MacDougall and Jones deserve recognition for their remarkable performances, and although I think it unlikely given the stiff competition this year, I would put them in the top-five performances in their respective categories when all is said and done.
Director J.A. Bayona delivers an astonishing vision that is beautifully rendered and unfolds through masterful cinematography (Oscar Faura) worthy of technical awards. Visually, Bayona shows he is worthy of being mentioned in the company of Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Inarritu, Ang Lee and Guillermo Del Toro. He blends outrageous visual effects with a simple grounded story in an awe-inspiring blend of surreal cinematic magic.
The first thing I thought when the monster emerged from the yew tree was how natural it looked in contrast to the stark, natural surroundings. It’s how the Ents from the “Lord of the Rings” should have looked (no offense to Peter Jackson). Liam Neeson’s gravelly voice was perfect for the creature, with a blend of ferocity and compassion that was soothing and frightening at the same time.
Based on the novel by Patrick Ness, I can only imagine the adaptation is strikingly on-target. Having not read the book, I would suspect that this is one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book. If I’m wrong, I’ve got to carve out more fiction-reading time.
My only real gripe, besides forgetting the Kleenex at home, is the decision to cast Sigourney Weaver as Jones’ mother. Her artificial British accent seemed out of place, and I just didn’t believe her in the role — great effort, but poorly cast. It negatively affected some of the ensemble continuity.
“A Monster Calls” immediately jumps into my top-five films of the year. It is manipulative storytelling at its grandest, and isn’t that why we go to the movies in the first place? You may be thinking the film is too intense based on my aforementioned comments, but I would highly recommend the experience; just be prepared to shed some tears and be visually blown away.