Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Monster Calls – Movie Review: Sadly Satisfying

Life it seems, is never as easy as we hope.

A Monster Calls starring Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Toby Kebbell, and directed by J. A. Bayona.  Who will also be directing the upcoming sequel to Jurassic World. A Monster Calls is a story about a young man or older boy, Conner, who is trying to cope with his dying mother played by Felicity Jones. This tragedy causes him to call on a fictitious monster who comes to tell him three stories. Conner wants the Monster to save his mother, but in the end that isn’t what the Monster is sent to help Conner with. The film is sad, but shows how the power of story, art, and imagination can help you cope with loss. Anyone who has dealt with death and specifically of someone who was taken too soon will connect with this movie.

The performances are all great. Lewis MacDougall stands out as the child actor who holds the screen the vast majority of the film. His performance is understated, but it has the reactions you would expect out of a twelve-year-old. Having a boy this exact age I very much saw my son in how he reacted to situations. It’s a risk to put so much focus on an unproven talent to carry a film, but MacDougall does a great job and hopefully will get looked at for more roles in the future. I was expecting more screen time from Felicity Jones, and the small amount of screen time isn’t due to what you think. What time she does have on the screen is emotional and impactful, and very well done.  I wonder if this films promotion got pushed down because of her role in Rogue One. It could be why there is minimal buzz on this film coming into awards season. Sigourney Weaver is excellent as the prim and proper Grandma, and has some truly heartfelt moments.

What was strange for me in A Monster Calls is that I connected and related to almost all of the characters. Conner because he was losing his mother and losing her before her time. The Grandma because she was losing a child, and I can only imagine the pain of this loss, and then the Mother because having children and leaving them before they grow is also a fear. The film isn’t a happy look at life, but it is a fantastic take on coping with grief and some deep dark truths loss force us to face. The relatable character’s drive home the main points of the story and through empathy or sympathy you can relate to their loss and what they feeling. The film isn’t one you can watch over and over, but it is a movie I could watch again.

A big reason for possible repeat viewings is Bayona’s direction and the animation of the monster and stories.  Bayona does a great job of shooting from the child’s perspective throughout the course of the movie. We see everything from Conner’s point of view. The camera is always looking up at the adults, and if he isn’t paying attention at school the teacher is muffled and you don’t understand what they are talking about. Bayona does the most to make you feel like you are in Conner’s head, without using any voiceover and he succeeds. The animation of the monster and Liam Neeson’s voice are perfect. I loved the look of the Monster and just how seamlessly he blended into the surroundings of the world. A few times I wondered if they were using CG at all and if it was a practical effect. The stories the monster tells are well animated and I enjoyed the switch to the 2D look during the film to illustrate his tales. The stories are good fables and fit into the narrative of the film and the overall theme of the movie. Watching this film and Bayona’s use of CG and how he told the story have increased my hopes for the sequel to Jurassic World.

The only slight negative I have for the movie is the inclusion of a bully story line and having Conner deal with this along with the loss of his mother. I don’t think this story was needed, and while the Monster played a role in helping him stand up to the bully it just feels tacked. I would have much preferred the story focus more on Conner’s relationship with his father and have the Monster help with this instead of focusing on the bully. Toby Kebbell does a good job as the father, but it seems much of his role might have been cut out for time. Maybe the book the film is based on has more of the Father’s story. This isn’t to say the bully confrontation is poorly done, it just isn’t needed to serve the story overall. 

A Monster Calls is a sad movie, but at the same time it is also deeply satisfying. If you want to handle a movie dealing with loss, then I would say this is Worth Seeing especially if you are a parent. It is at the very least worth watching on rental if you don’t make it out to the theater to see it. The animation of the monster alone is worth checking out, but the story is what holds the movie together. I wish the film would have gotten more of an awards push, because it deserves some more praise. Comment and let me know if you have seen A Monster Calls or if you want to see it, or what your favorite voiceover work down by Liam Neeson is. It’s hard to beat his portrayal as Aslan. Like, share subscribe and all that fun stuff. 

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