I have to admit that the Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona wrung almost everything he possibly could from Patrick Ness’ fantasy novel A Monster Calls. Even though the novel is short, it is very rich in content; and that is what the audience gets to see on the big screen: the filmmaker serves the viewers with a tremendous narrative about the power of imagination.
A Monster Calls depicts the story of a teenage boy called Conor (a sublime performance by Lewis MacDougall). He lives with his mother who is seriously ill (a heart-breaking performance by Felicity Jones) and is often bullied at school by a stronger and tougher boy. Now that he has to deal with his mother’s fragile health, he is also forced to spend more time in the care of his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), whom he frankly dislikes. Not being able to cope with overwhelming problems that surround him, Conor escapes into the imaginary world, summoning a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who – in the teenager’s mind – could help him with his issues. The glorious and giant, tree-looking monster unexpectedly appears seven minutes after midnight, offering Conor three stories, but under one condition; the fourth one – which will show the tree the truth about the boy’s nightmare – has to be told by the protagonist himself. The giant tree becomes somewhat of a guide, a mentor and a bridge between the reality and the imaginary world.
I must say that A Monster Calls trailer really misleads the potential audience. Those who have not read the book might think that it will be a happy fantasy film; sadly, it is not the most joyful of narratives. After watching the film, I have decided to read Patrick Ness’ novel. The film and the book differ only in a few scenes. Unfortunately, the motion picture entirely omits Conor’s friend Lilly; it is like she never existed in the novel. Too bad. To me, it would have added so much more to an already beautiful film; a film which will increase your heart rate in no time and make you leave the cinema in tears.
Monster’s stories are told by using pulchritudinous animations, which are ingenious and artistically simple – but in a good way. With each of the stories connected to a lesson, the moral of all is basically the same – life isn’t black and white, and the winner is not a crystal clear character, but that doesn’t necessary mean that stories must have bad endings. How about Conor’s story then?
A Monster Calls is beautiful, wise and practically without fault. It is an emotional and honest picture of a young boy who has to deal with unimaginably – to some – difficult problems. The film doesn’t offer simple truths and wisdom, but it is – somewhat – fundamental for the protagonist who is slowly learning about the concepts of death and moral ambiguity. In all honesty, it is impossible to get bored while watching the film; the narrative itself is told with a relish. Even in tears, your eyes will enjoy A Monster Calls from the beginning to the end. There is nothing intrusive, shoddy or infantile about the film, but it consists of a few elements of horror, which appear in ancient fairy tales, that could – at times – terrify a young viewer. But still, A Monster Calls is a valuable film that is worth seeing, regardless of the age of the recipient.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Focus Features