A monster calls review: A splendidly dark adaptation!
J. A. Bayona is a terrific director in my opinion. His previous works include The Orphanage(2007) which is one of the best horror films in foreign language and The Impossible(2012) which in my opinion is one of the best disaster movies I’ve watched. Adapted from the child fantasy novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, J. A. Bayona cleverly puts the events on screen with the help of crisp special effects, terrific narration and a strong lead performance from Lewis Macdougall. Though it seems a little bit dark for kids, A Monster Calls delivers on all fronts and comes out as a winner.
A Monster Calls centers around Conor O’ Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who lives with his mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) who is suffering from some terminal illness. Conor goes through a monotonous routine which includes getting bullied by his classmates almost everyday, and giving comfort to his mother when he returns home. His grandmother doesn’t help much as she wants him to come live with her against his wish; and also, they don’t gel much. Then there is his father who is living in US and is not in a position to come live with Conor and Lizzie. Conor in all this grief and pain, is one day visited by a mysterious monster like tree (voiced by Liam Neeson), who promises to tell him three stories and suggests that a fourth one will be told by Conor which is actually a hidden truth. Conor is initially terrified of the tree but gradually takes it and the stories as a means to make her mother well again. He is naive and doesn’t know that real world doesn’t work that way.
A Monster Calls comes out as a matured tale of loss and grief. I have no idea about the source material but whatever I’ve heard about it, I know it is not as dark as the film is. But it is not like this puts a negative shadow over the movie. The young lead and the various themes that Bayona tackles syncs with the undertone and keeps us hopeful all along amidst all the grey elements. Bayona creates a strong narrative with raw and powerful instances which at some points chokes you. The use of animation for the three stories that the tree tells Conor is a smart move and is excellently executed. It gives that child-like touch to the otherwise dark adaptation. The cast couldn’t be more perfect with Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell and Sigourney Weaver pitching in with heartfelt performances. Liam Neeson is perfect for the voice of the monster tree and the impressive CGI is just the cherry on top. But it is Lewis MacDougall in the lead who overshadows everyone and carries the movie on his shoulder. He is terrific as the grief-ridden child and puts the pain and other emotions on screen brilliantly. There are some heart wrenching scenes including him and Sigourney and Felicity.
A Monster Calls has some crisp visuals and the team of J. A. Bayona and Oscar Faura provide us with rich textures and layers where projecting the illustrations of the book on screen is concerned. It is poignant and lavish at the same time and gives the right effect. More than anything, A Monster Calls is a strong emotional movie. The sensitive viewers (especially small children) might find it challenging but in totality, it is a rewarding experience. The bold portrayal of grief, loss and pain is thought provoking to say the least and the film also instills hope where smart adaptation of books to films is concerned.