Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Monster Calls

Year: 2016
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell

Plot: A young boy whose mother is suffering from terminal cancer befriends a tree monster who helps him deal with his grief.

Review: First things first. If you're thinking this film is similar to kiddie movies like The BFG or Pete's Dragon, you are seriously mistaken. This is not THAT kind of film. A Monster Calls may be a fantasy film, but it is not the cute type. In fact, it deals with some very serious issues, like life and death.

Connor is a young boy whose mother is suffering from cancer. Her condition grows worse day after day, and he tries to stay strong, but it isn't easy, and getting picked on by bullies at school certainly doesn't help. His overly strict grandmother drives him up the wall with her rules as well. One night, he encounters a tree monster outside his house. The monster offers to tell him three stories, and in return Connor has to tell him the truth about his nightmare, which keeps him up at night.

The theme of the film, about death and how to deal with it, may seem bleak, but director J.A. Bayona presents the subject matter in a way that never seems cliched or too tragic, and he certainly doesn't dumb it down for the audience. It's so effective that those of you who have ever lost someone will certainly relate to this. Heck, even the best cynics will probably choke up by the film's end.

The best moments of the film are when the monster tells his stories to Connor, which Bayona illustrates to us via water color graphics, which look really beautiful despite its simplicity. Connor himself sketches from time to time, so art definitely plays a significant part in this film. Speaking of the stories, they are good tales that will teach a thing or two about life, people and what we believe.

Fourteen year old Lewis MacDougall is simply superb as Connor, displaying a level of acting that would put many adult actors out there to shame. He makes Connor really easy to relate to and sympathize with, and in the film's climax, he's in such a way that you can't help but want to give the boy a hug. Lewis is gonna be a big deal in the future. Felicity Jones also puts in great work as Connor's sickly mother, a far cry from her lead role in Rogue One. Liam Neeson is also a perfect choice to voice the monster, which by the way looks like Treebeard from LOTR, but less menacing.

Sigourney Weaver is solid as Connor's grandmother, but I wonder why Bayona cast her when they could have picked an English actress, which for me would have been less distracting. Not that Weaver can't pull off an English accent, it just wasn't obvious enough. Toby Kebbell also shines as Connor's dad, but his subplot seemed extraneous to me, as it doesn't really affect the final outcome.

In the end, A Monster Calls is a cathartic film that convincingly deals with a subject most of us know about but most likely avoid thinking about. Like Pixar's Inside Out, it will stir all the right emotions and touch your heart. Recommended. (8.5/10) 

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