A Monster Calls Review
A Monster Calls is an engrossing and, ultimately, cathartic tale about a young boy called Connor (Lewis MacDougall) and his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones). Connor is bullied at school and he finds all this a struggle alongside his grandmother's (Sigourney Weaver) interfering and insistence that Connor learn to accept his mother’s condition.
Situations like this could quite easily break a young man of twelve. The skills and tools to process and understand such a situation are still developing. What most have at that age though is an imagination, something that adults are not always keenly aware of. This is what Connor uses to develop a coping mechanism to deal with his mothers illness. Enter the title character, a monstrous Yew tree that grows and escapes from the Yorkshire moors and is voiced, in all his glory, by Liam Neeson.
The overall look, feel and tone bears a passing resemblance to Guillermo del Toro. From the look of the monster, with his branch like tentacles to the inner glow of emotions, this creature jumps straight out of one of his famous sketchbooks. The soothing lilt of Liam Neeson is well used to show the softer side of a tall, dark and intimidating monster and it is a monster; going through a wide range of emotions using subtle use of a fire within to show anger and disagreement.
Said monster intones that he will tell Connor three stories and in turn Connor must return the favour. Each story, beautifully animated and hand-drawn, helps Connor learn and understand his feelings. The overall look of the film is complimented by effects work that does not rip the viewer out the cinematic experience (á la Rogue One or uses dead-eyed CGI characters). The film has, and quite rightly, not had a 3D release, where the majority films are retrofitted to squeeze the extra pounds from an adults grasp, this film demands you immerse yourself completely.
Anybody that has experience of cancer, knows how much it can effect someone's life. It makes it all the more poignant when you consider that A Monster Calls was an original idea by Siobhan Dowd who sadly succumbed to terminal cancer before she could complete it, and Patrick Ness authored the novel and adapts his own work for the screen.
A film like this could be viewed as manipulative. It plays on your emotions with its subject matter and that doesn’t always work if the score isn’t up to scratch. John Williams is a master at this sort of thing. Fernando Velazquez (a frequent collaborator of and composer of 2015’s Crimson Peak) provides a soft, lilting score for the film. There are no memorable themes but the overall musical landscape helps the viewer reach an emotional mindset. The tones compliment the visuals.
A Monster Calls is an emotional rollercoaster of a ride for children and adults alike led by a particularly convincing central performance by Lewis MacDougall. It is well worth your time, your money and more importantly your tears.