A Monster Calls (2017) (Review)

Less than 24 hours into 2017 and my first film of the year will be a very difficult one to top. A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness based on an idea from Siobhan Dowd shortly before her death from cancer, tells a poignant and moving coming-of-age tale, becoming a deft addition of dark fantasy neatly balanced in this elite picture that refuses to leave a dry eye in the room. It enters a crowded genre and marketplace but is head and shoulders above the competition. If there's one film you should watch this January, A Monster Calls should be top choice.

Struggling to cope with the terminal illness of his mother (Felicity Jones), finding it difficult to connect with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and unable to stand up to the bullies at school, Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) encounters a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) in the form of a giant yew tree, who soon begins to help ease his pain and torment by encouraging him admit to his 'nightmare truth' and grow as a person. Wise beyond words, this film offers something for the entire family, exceptionally directed and packaged by J.A. Bayona.

A Monster Calls is the most emotional film I have ever seen. Almost immediately, one can sense the pure heart at this centre of this exquisite piece of film and that sensitivity and empathy never wavers, crafting an experience that feels both intimately personal and widely relatable. It's endpoint is foreseeable but it does not make the journey any less heartbreaking or compelling, offering true sincerity every step of the way. Thematically, the film deals with some incredibly complex and difficult ideas to explore in a story that needs to be accessible by all ages, but superbly handles them so they can be recognised and accepted by all. It's a huge ask for a film to be able to deliver the same message to a multitude of people varying in age, gender and background but it all comes together in such a touching way. It's words, script and screenplay from Patrick Ness are poetic, deeply creative and inventive. The stunning script and crushing themes are only the foundations to this sensational film and knowing the context of the novel's birth and development only add to the authenticity of this film.

Not only are the themes and story beautiful but the picture exudes a magnificence in its imagery and visual that simply cannot be faulted. Whether it's the CGI that brings the human tree to life, the animation of the tree's stories with spreading watercolours capturing your attention or the destruction and detail in the crumbling graveyard, each moment features a picturesque splendour that can't be ignored. Made on a smaller budget in comparison to the usual Hollywood pictures, A Monster Calls supersedes most of them in its luscious imagery, inspiring design and production values, ensuring it is as beautiful in its aesthetics as its narrative. Each drawing and painting is completed to reflect the inside of a confused mind with still featuring an elegance, precision and undeniable beauty, with one thought echoed throughout - that the eyes are where the life is - being beautifully reflected in the film's final moments, that may have gone unnoticed if it wasn't for beautiful framing and focus from director J.A Bayona, with a terrific story coming to life under his exceptional direction; he is very quickly become one of the most imaginative and artistic directors in Hollywood, showcased by his ability to successful juggles genres - dark fantasy, gorgeously vivid animation, flat out drama with just a tinge of humour to balance it all off - perfectly.

Spectacular performances all-round populate this stunning film; Liam Neeson is an obvious pick to voice the monster, with a commanding and hypnotising tone perfectly suiting the character; Lizzy, a cancer-striken mother played by Felicity Jones in a deeply-felt and harrowing performance, demonstrates why she is becoming one of the UK's brightest talents; and acting legend Sigourney Weaver, a hard-faced grandmother with a forceful intensity coming to terms with her daughters terminal illness by putting up barriers, is not always the most likeable but carries a great weight with her performance. However, it is the youngest cast member that deserves all the recognition in the world for his powerful performance as Conor O'Malley, a misunderstood and alienated boy "too old to be a kid, too young to be a man'. Committed and heart-rendering, his portrayal of a deeply emotional and confused son could crack even the hardest of hearts, crafting a believable performance that could have undone the whole film in the wrong hands. Thankfully, he soars and is definitely one to watch out for in the future. His vulnerability is refreshing and a complete revelation, perfecting a performance comparable to Jacob Tremblay's in Room last year - which just so happened to be my favourite film of the year, a position A Monster Calls looks set to take over in just under twelve months time. A Monster Calls is simply so powerful that I forget any minor flaw it has.

A Monster Calls is an accomplished, sophisticated and masterful coming-of-age dark fantasy drama that succeeds on every single level. Emotionally-complex and driven by themes of loss, unconditional love and growth, delivered by a radiant cast of incredible talents both in front of and behind the camera and capturing the beauty of the story very effectively, A Monster Calls is not one to miss. The whole thing is really rather exquisite, heartfelt, heartbreaking and life-affirming.


Summary: A Monster Calls is a magical tale that cannot be faulted. Stunning in its visuals, performances, themes and story-telling, it is one of the most emotional, creative and inspiring films in years.