Director J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls premiered at Toronto International Film Festival back in September, but for the rest of us schlubs who didn’t attend, the film’s wide theatrical release fell on the first weekend of 2017.
This film is based on a book of the same name, written by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The book was intended to be the loosely autobiographical story of Siobhan Dowd’s terminal illness, but she unfortunately was unable to complete it due to her passing in 2007. The project was ultimately completed by Ness, who had been offered the project through the two’s mutual editor.
The story centers around Conor (played by Lewis MacDougall), a boy who is “too old to be a kid, too young to be a man”, as he deals with his mother’s terminal illness (portrayed wonderfully by Felicity Jones). He is plagued with a recurring nightmare in which he is unable to save his mother from falling into a sinkhole that is created in the cemetery that is just behind their house. One night, as he is avoiding one of his nightmares, he is visited by a giant tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) that erupted out of the yule tree that overlooks the nearby cemetery. The monster tells Conor that he is going to visit him again, tell him three stories, and finally will be told a story by Conor. These stories are tall tales of kings and knights, a preist and an apothecary and an invisible man. The stories are ultimately in place to teach Conor the enigmatic nature of humanity, and how good and evil are never as clear as black and white.
Bayona’s visual style emphasized the emotions of the story. The drawings were mostly done by him, as he noted in his interview with B-Movies Podcast. His direction and the cinematography was stunningly executed by Oscar Faura, who had worked with Bayona previously on The Orphanage. The monster is visually stunning. His guidance for Conor throughout the film was never distracted by a feeling of disbelief, which is tough to achieve with a giant tree monster. The relationship between the monster and Conor never felt like it needed to be questioned in the sense of reality.
This film is a masterpiece of storytelling. The main theme of the film is how everyone has a story and they should never be afraid to tell their story. There is an emphasis on the importance of storytelling, and this film makes it very clear that telling (and listening to and watching) stories is ultimately how we learn to be human.
Check out the trailer here.
-By Kirk Yoshonis