Complexity of being human. We end up destroying things we need. Loss. A fear of loss. How we attempt as kids to try and understand the adult world. These are just some of the themes that J.A. Boyona’s (The Impossible, The Orphanage) A Monster Calls tackles. This is not your typical kids’ film. Layered, emotional, deep, and complex. Along with being visually spectacular it has all the elements required for a good film.
Based on the award-winning novel by Patrick Ness, who adapted an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The mother in this film is based on Siobhan (for reasons I won’t divulge). It has that kind of older film feel to it. Though it is also rather modern due to all the technology/visuals involved.
Most 12-year-olds have great imaginations and use them plenty. Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall – Pan) is at the top of this particular heap. It is understandable, however, as he is going through a rough patch in life. Not really fair for someone so young to have to deal with what he is. His parents on divorced with him living with his mother (Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything, Inferno) in rural England and his father (Toby Kebbell – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Warcraft: The Beginning) lives with his new family in the United States. At school he suffers abuse from a group of bullies. He suffers in silence; not telling anyone what he is going through. On top of that his mother is sick. Really sick. So sick that he has to go live with his grandma (Sigourney Weaver – Ghostbusters, Working Girl). A women who does not ooze warmness.
With all this going on and Conor wishing for help he somehow summon a 40-foot-high creature (Liam Neeson – Batman Begins, Schindler’s List). Though gruff the creature proceeds to provide some comfort for Conor by telling him stories. Three stories to be precise. The deal is that when the monster is finished telling Conor the stories Conor has to repay him by telling him the truth.
Despite his young age Lewis MacDougall proves himself a good actor in this film. He goes toe to toe with Sigourney Weaver and does not come out any worse for the wear. The role asks much of him – acting against green screen, using his imagination extensively and being brave and vulnerable sometimes within the same scenes. He portrays a young boy who is having trouble with reality and so turns to the imaginary world to help get him through.
Another excellent performance is Liam Neeson as the Monster. His voice was the perfect choice as it is scary, serious and wise. Though he is not physically in one scene of the film, Neeson’s presence is everywhere and essential.
Director J.A. Bayona shows such a deft touch with this tricky story. Makes all the right choices. That includes the sets, CGI usage, pacing, and especially the soundtrack. All the people he has chosen to do these things were absolutely the right choices. His ability to combine reality and fantasy truly adds to the story.
Sometimes kids’ movies are hard to watch. Such is not the case here. A Monster Calls is highly watchable. Dark, but beautiful It is sometimes a hard journey though well worth the voyage. Emotionally powerful.
-The Making of A Monster Calls
-Making of the Tales
-English Feature Commentary with Writer Patrick Ness
-Spanish Feature Commentary with Director J.A. Bayona