After reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness I was given the opportunity to attend the a UK early access screening, which I gladly accepted. I went in with fairly high hopes for the movie, as my feelings were a bit mixed for the novel.
The movie opens with Conor’s reoccurring nightmare in which his mother falls down a pit, and he is desperately trying to save her. Similarly to the novel, we learn pretty early on that Conor’s mother is dying from cancer, and with an absent father Conor is virtually left to fend for himself. One thing I thought that was amazing straight away was having Liam Neeson voices the monster. He just has the most perfect voice for this role, as it is the ideal blend of both menacing and caring. Along with Neeson the movie also hosts a variety of other famous faces including, Felicity Jones as the mother ,and the goddess that is Sigourney Weaver as the grandmother.
I am going to start by saying what I liked about the movie. I felt the characters were extremely well cast despite a few minors issues; like Weaver’s English accent and Lewis MacDougall’s slighty angry portrayal of Conor. I also loved the way the live action and animation were seamlessly integrated in a visually stunning way. I also loved how the monster was designed. The concept it reminds me of a larger, scarier version of Groot, from Guardians of the Galaxy, minus the humour.
In all honesty it’s extremely hard to put how I felt about this movie into words. I kind of felt if you wanted a movie to watch, but not really focus on, then this would be perfect, however I think it is full of holes.
I felt that this movie had next to nothing in the way of character development. It’s as if we were just dropped in the middle of someone’s life and expected to just go with the flow. I felt this was such a shame, as I like feeling immersed in a story.
I believe Conor was far too angry, and although it is understandable, he would have felt a mixture of emotions, and these were not balanced in the film. He is also made out to be the victim a lot but this isn’t needed. Yes his family situation is sad with his father being on another continent and his mother dying but I don’t think they needed the various bullying/beating scenes, it a bit of overkill on the victim trope.
I ask had so many questions about the family that were not even touched upon in the book or movie, like why is parents’ marriage broke down? What is the relationship like between the grandmother and Conor’s mother? Why is the grandmother is cold towards Conor? And these are only the tip of the iceberg, leaving me feeling quite unsatisfied.
Lewis MacDougall is nothing short of astounding, being in nearly every scene of the movie. The young actor is capable of reaching remarkable emotional depths, bringing Conor through anger, resignation, frustration, and indignation, while never coming off as melodramatic. He simply plays like a very young man confronted with the potential loss of the most important person in his world. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by a rock-solid supporting cast, particularly Sigourney Weaver, who jettisons her usual charm as Conor’s by-the-book grandmother, who is as frustrated with Conor intruding into her own life as she is with her daughter’s illness. However, despite the amazing cast the movie was really lacking emotion. While we do see a lot of how Conor feels, we see virtually nothing of the emotions of his mother or father, and I felt this was sorely needed to provide a raw, evocative and realistic tale.
The scenes which include the monster are by far the at the pinnacle of the film. In these the audience can learn lessons about humanity that relate closely to Conor. I also felt the monster was the best character by far and he feels the most human. The animation scene that visually portray the monsters’ stories bring life to the film, and these create the foundation of the plot. The relationship that the character’s have with the monster creates an interesting detail, as some refer to him as ‘friend’.
Bayona has already proven himself as a gifted visual filmmaker, but he gets a chance to really stretch his legs with the monster’s tales. They’re stories of kings and villainous queens, wronged apothecaries seeking vengeance, and Bayona uses Conor’s drawings as the springboard to visualise them. It resulted in stunning, impressionistic sequences that play like an elaborate storybook come to life.
A Monster Calls is a beautiful, meticulously photographed film — both in its depiction of Conor’s mundane reality or the more fantastical sequences with the creature — but the treatment of the monster’s stories deepens the sense that we’re watching a fable, one where everything has to work out. The stylistic choice echoes the desperate denial that both Conor and his mom are both choosing to live in.
Overall, I felt that despite the 12A age rating that the majority of pre-teens wouldn’t grasp the devastating nature of this movie and the plot would be lost on them. Most would see it as a film about overcoming bullying, and being in control of your own life whereas it is actually a film about the inevitability and acceptance of death. I personally felt this film would be better suited to a much older audience which was evident during this screening, as I was the youngest person present with almost everyone else being over 30. I would recommend this film if you just want something different. Although, if you are looking for a film to completely lose yourself in, this isn’t the one for you. This disappointed me after reading the book, which was marginally better, I was expecting more – especially with the stars in the cast and the various direction in which the movie could have been taken. To conclude, it’s a disappointing film, but nevertheless it has some beautiful imagery and a deep plot line.
Working in collaboration with Jodie Loves Books