Friday, November 03, 2017

A Monster Calls

Based on the novel by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls is the story of a young boy who copes with his mother’s terminal illness as he withdraws towards fantasy in the form of a gigantic tree-like monster. Directed by J.A. Bayona and screenplay by Patrick Ness, the film is a look of a boy coping with impending loss and dark realties as he turns to the world of fantasy. Starring Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson as the voice of the monster. A Monster Calls is an exhilarating yet heart-wrenching film from J.A. Bayona.

The film follows a young boy who is dealing with his mother’s illness as he receives a visit from a tree-like monster who would tell him three different stories with the boy having to tell the fourth story. It’s a film that follows a boy who is unwilling to face the fact that his mother would die as he also has to deal with his strict grandmother who wants him to live with her as well as a visit from his estranged father. Patrick Ness’ screenplay showcases the life of a boy in Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is living with his ailing mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) as he wonders if she will still live despite the seriousness of her illness. Though his life is also troubled at school due to a bully named Harry (James Melville), he often retreats to making drawings and artwork when a monster appears at 12:07 AM as he would appear on that time every few nights to tell three different stories that relate to not just human nature but also loss. For Conor, the idea of losing his mother is enormous as he isn’t sure if he wants to stay with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) nor does he want to move to America to stay with his father Liam (Toby Kebbell).

J.A. Bayona’s direction definitely has elements of style in his approach to the visuals as it include some animated sequences as it relates to the three stories the monster tells to Conor. Shot on location in areas near London as well as some scenes shot in Spain with much of the film set in Britain, Bayona would create some wide shots of the scope of the locations including scenes of capturing how big this tree-like monster is. While Bayona would create close-ups and medium shots to play into the intimate moments including scenes of Conor dealing with the people in his life. Bayona would use the script’s back-and-forth narrative as it relates to the three stories as the animation is based on Jim Kay’s animation from Ness’ novel as it would have a richness that is reminiscent to the drawings that Conor would make in his spare time. The animated scenes would match into whatever outlet that Conor is dealing with emotionally as it relates to his inability to face the truth about what will happen to his mother.

Bayona would also create these sequences to match this element of fantasy and reality as it would play into the third act where Conor has to confront this recurring nightmare he would have for much of the film. It’s a sequence in the film’s third act that packs a real emotional punch as it play into the idea of loss. Especially as it show what Conor would have to deal with as well as the array of emotions he is dealing with as well as what he doesn’t want to face. Its aftermath will reveal what Conor has to face but also deal with something bigger as it is about what everyone has to deal with as it relates to death. Overall, Bayona crafts a magical yet visceral film about a boy withdrawing into fantasy to cope with the idea of losing his mother.

Cinematographer Oscar Faura does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it play into the grey look of Britain in the daytime as well as some unique lighting and shadows for some of the scenes set at night. Editors Bernat Vilaplana and Jaume Marti do excellent work with the editing as it play into the drama with its usage of rhythmic cuts as well as a few jump-cuts for some of the big moments of fantasy. Production designer Eugenio Caballero, with set decorator Pilar Revuelta plus art directors Jamie Anduiza, Ravi Bansal, Didac Bono, and David Bryan, does amazing work with the look of the home that Conor and Lizzie live in as well as the home of Lizzie’s mother and the school where Conor goes to. Costume designer Steven Noble does fantastic work with the costumes as it is mainly casual with the school uniform that Conor wears to the clothes that Lizzie and her mother wears.

Hair/makeup designer Marese Langan does terrific work with the look of Lizzie in her deteriorating state as she would decline throughout the course of the film. Special effects supervisor Pau Costa and visual effects supervisor Felix Berges do incredible work with effects from the design of the monster as well as the massive sequences in which the monster is destroying things as it play into Conor’s own outlet in coping with reality. Sound designer Oriol Tarrago does superb work with the sound as it play into the way some of the sounds of places on location are presented as well as the way the monster would sound at times. The film’s music by Fernando Velazquez is great as it is this mixture of bombastic orchestral pieces with some somber piano as it help play into the emotional tone of the film as well as some of the adventurous scenes in the film.

The casting by Shaheen Baig is wonderful as it feature a couple of notable small roles from James Melville as the bully Harry that often torments Conor and Geraldine Chaplin as the school’s headmistress. Liam Neeson is excellent as the monster as this tree-like creature who would tell Conor three different stories while demanding him to create a fourth story that relates to all three as Neeson’s performance is a mixture of performance-capture and animation. Toby Kebbell is fantastic as Conor’s father Liam as a man who is an absentee father living in America with a family as he tries to help Conor cope with what will happen though he doesn’t say anything despite offering to have Conor move to America with him.

Sigourney Weaver is brilliant as Lizzie’s mother/Conor’s grandmother as a woman that is quite strict as she knows she hasn’t been fond of her grandson nor her daughter’s lifestyle as she is trying to maintain some order and composure about what is to come. Felicity Jones is amazing as Lizzie as Conor’s mother who is ill with a terminal disease as she tries to maintain some spirit to raise her son’s hopes but also copes with the reality of what she’s facing for herself and her son. Finally, there’s Lewis MacDougall in a phenomenal performance as Conor as a 12-year old boy dealing with his mother’s illness unaware or unwilling to deal with the fact that she might die as it’s a lively yet intense performance where a boy is dealing with reality and the confusion of reality in the world of fantasy as it also has MacDougall reach into very heavy places to capture the idea of loss.

A Monster Calls is a spectacular film from J.A. Bayona that features great performances from Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, and Liam Neeson. Along with its grand visuals, incredible score, and a compelling story of death and heartache, it’s a film that is willing to go into some very adult themes on loss while being a film that shows the sense of fear and acceptance in coping with death. In the end, A Monster Calls is a tremendous film from J.A. Bayona.

J.A. Bayona Films: The Orphanage - The Impossible - (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom)

© thevoid99 2017


Brittani Burnham said...

I'm glad you liked this. Having seen the SFX it's a shame this didn't get more Oscar recognition last year (I believe that's where it qualified)

I was a mess during the last 30 mins or so of this film.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Yeah, the Oscars are weird when it comes to nominating films as I felt it got overlooked. I too became a mess during the last 30 minutes of the film. I was in tears. I'm not ashamed to say that.