A Monster Calls, directed by J.A. Bayona, is a wonderfully creative film full of moments that seem like they are pulled directly from a child’s imagination. But it is also a film with a powerful and challenging story at its centre, and all of it is guided by an absolutely outstanding performance from Lewis MacDougall. This is going to be one of those reviews where I gush about the film for a while, so if you’ll indulge me; I’m going to get on with the ramblings.
Conor – played by Lewis MacDougall – is dealing with the fact that his terminally ill Mum – played by Felicity Jones – could soon pass away. So, Conor seeks the help of a Monster that lives beneath a tree, on the hillside looking over his house. The Monster – voiced by Liam Neeson – answers and begins to offer him guidance through three stories and after the third is told, Conor must tell the Monster the fourth and final story. That sounds odd, I know, but it is all for a good reason, and it all is handled and delivered in such a delicate, moving way.
A Monster Calls is a difficult film to sit through. Not because it is lacking in quality, but because it is a film with a story that is honestly depressing, but, it is totally worth experiencing. From a performance standpoint, to a creative standpoint. This film is filled with excellence, and it is all handled so well. Director J.A. Bayona creates this intimate, delicate feeling film that grips you emotionally and delights you visually. Through my struggles to hold back tears, I watched a film that truly moved me.
And there is one very specific quality to the film that had that being the case: Lewis MacDougall and his character. MacDougall delivers an absolutely incredible performance. The power within his expressions; the control he emits throughout the film is something that makes you gravitate to him; care for him and be completely overwhelmed by him.
Here is a young man who is sharing scenes with other actors who have headlined massive franchises – Felicity Jones in Rogue One and Sigourney Weaver (who plays Conor’s Grandmother) in the Alien films. Yet it is Lewis MacDougall who stands tall and ever noticeable in the film. Don’t get me wrong, the performances by all of the supporting cast are just as important to the film, and not one of them detracts from the potency of the experience. It’s just that Lewis MacDougall has so much of the weight of the film on his shoulders and without what he accomplishes there is no film. Certainly not one that has the same impact that, A Monster Calls did. I simply couldn’t help but be drawn to wanting to praise him and his work as he carried the film and he delivered on every moment that was asked of him. I am really excited to see what this young actor is going to go on to do in the future – someone to look out for, for sure.
But the film isn’t all doom and gloom. There is a level of artistry and attention to design in this film that is just rewarding to watch. The main standout has to be the water colour animations that depict the stories being told by the Monster. Having never seen any of the trailers for the film, I did not know about this particular aspect of the film – which I’m really glad about – as it was such a pleasant surprise when the first one began. It brings something to the film that makes it feel even more full of life. Also, how greatly detailed and animated the parts are, adds to how enjoyable they are to watch. It was an unexpected layer to the film, that for me, built further upon a film that already had me fully engrossed.
And the other thing the film did that made a film geek like me appreciate it even more was how it handled the Monster. A combination of CGI, motion capture, animatronics and if I’m not mistaken, some stop motion animation. All were utilised at different points to bring the Monster to life, and it worked. I believed in the Monster, I also loved the design of it. All were brought together to create something that felt more real than it of course was and I love that, because they simply could have relied on CGI at all times and never thought twice about it but they didn’t. They took the time, they put in the effort and they added onto a film that at all times felt like it was treating its source material with care, love, attention and respect. And thus, so did I, when watching it.
A Monster Calls is a wonderful balancing act of a difficult topic, with challenged characters and a fantastical fantasy element that somehow all work effortlessly with one another. To take the story of a young boy who is dealing with his only friend (his Mum) dying and then couple that with a large talking tree who tells stories of times from long ago, and then bring them all together and have them play off of one another, is no easy task – from a tonal standpoint it seems nigh on impossible. But they all work together and they all come together to create something genuinely heart breaking, but in a way also fulfilling. This is a film that hurts, but it is a pain worth taking on, as in the end you experience a film that matters.
I am absolutely recommending A Monster Calls. As someone who is personally dealing with something similar to Conor’s story, I found this film to be moving in a way that is indescribable. I only wish I had a large talking tree come visit me sometime. But this is a film deserving of your time and of your heart, so don’t be afraid to give either to it.
I’d love to know what you thought of A Monster Calls and my review so please leave any opinions, feedback etc. in the comments section down below. I would really appreciate it if you could give my blog a follow and also my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it will help to grow them both. But I’ll leave you now by thanking you for reading this and I hope you have a great day!