“Stories are wild Creatures. When you let them Loose, who Knows what Havoc they Might Wreak?” – A Monster Calls (Film Review)

 

So, the year keeps on ticking over, and the cinematic delights keep coming. We’re entering the crux of awards season and that means some of the year’s top releases vying for their moment in the spotlight. A Monster Calls is a film about fairytales and monster, family and truth, and is one of the best movies of the year.

Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a lonely schoolboy trying to deal with his mother’s, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), terminal illness. While Lizzie is ill Connor is forced to move in with his Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), with whom he has a strained relationship, as his father (Toby Kebbell) has moved to America with his new family leaving Connor isolated. Friendless and targeted by school bullies Connor is struggling to deal with his new living situation when one night the old Yew tree near his house (Liam Neeson) comes alive and visits him promising to tell three stories, but in return he wants Connor to share his deepest secret.

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J.A Bayona has built an impressive filmography in a relatively short space of time including The Orphanage and The Impossible, with his next project being the sequel to last year’s highly successful Jurassic World. It makes sense he would be tapped for the high budget project following his masterful direction in A Monster Calls. He captures the scale and physical presence of the Monster, who is fantastically designed by the VFX crew, whilst also allowing the more intimate moments of the film to flow trusting in the strength of Patrick Ness’s script. Lewis MacDougall is a terrific find, already with numerous credits to his name, he carries the emotional weight of the film with authenticity and his inner turmoil, his rage, his barely concealed anger always seems to be bubbling at the surface. The supporting cast of Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell and Sigourney Weaver all deliver exceptional performances as an ensemble. Jones is almost angelic as the wailing Lizzie, whilst the authoritarian Grandmother played by Weaver attempts to maintain order in the face of disaster. Weaver always delivers as an actor, never one to give anything less than exceptional and this performance is no different. Kebbell’s dilemmic display as Connor’s father is a contemplative, humorous and bittersweet role. A chameleonic performer this is one of his more understated performances and is all the better for it. The one actor I haven’t focussed on yet is Liam Neeson, who voices the Monster. A character who needs to be supportive, yet domineering. Enigmatic, yet intimate. An amalgamation of the various qualities of humanity, otherwise his lectures to Connor would not carry the necessary dramatic weight. Neeson is wonderful in his recitation as a storyteller-cum-guardian. A real delight. Whilst the Monster’s stories are brought to life by beautiful animated sequences evocative of the “Story of three brothers” animation from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One.

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I was lucky enough to catch a preview screening of A Monster Calls, with the film not out till the new year, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. A poignant, touching, charming and endearing tale of grief, sorrow and the unbreakable bond of family. A family drama disguised as a monster movie with a wonderful series of performances, a highly talented director at the helm and a terrific screenplay from the novel’s author Patrick Ness, this is one you should check out.

5/5

Dir: J.A Bayona

Scr: Patrick Ness

Cast: Liam Neeson, Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell

Prd: Belen Atienza, Mitch Horwits, Jonathan King

DOP: Oscar Faura

Music: Fernando Velazquez

Country: USA, Spain, UK

Year: 2016

Run Time: 108 minutes

A Monster Calls will be in UK cinemas from January 1st.

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