A MONSTER CALLS (2016)
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Film by Orphanage director J. A. Bayona is the sad tale of Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with not only the terminal illness that is slowly taking his divorced mother (Felicity Jones) from him, but having to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has a tenuous relationship, as well. His father is now living in the U.S. with his new family and he has no one to turn to…until a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears and says he will tell Connor three stories, but only if the boy agrees to tell the fourth, which is to relate a reoccurring nightmare Connor is having. The boy reluctantly agrees, but soon finds these tales have more in common with his current situation than he could have imagined.
Flick is written by Patrick Ness based on his book that was inspired by writer Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the idea during her own illness, one she sadly did not live to write herself. It is excellently directed by Bayona, though is a very somber and sad story when all is said and done. The film certainly has a strong emotional core, as we watch a young boy trying to deal with the fact that his mother is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. Is the monster there as an imaginary way of sorting through his emotions, or an actual being only Connor can see, that is there to help the boy sort things out? Bayona and Ness aren’t eager top let us find out and the film does have a sort of magic because of it, despite the dour tone. Much like Orphanage J. A. Bayona gives this the feel of a sort of dark fairy tale and it boldly deals with the theme of a child facing the death of a loved one, without sugar coating it or giving it an unrealistic wrap up. That’s one of the things that also holds it back a bit, is that it is overall, a very sad film and contains some very serious subject matter despite having a young child as it’s central focus. On a production level, the FX are excellent, especially in the rendition of the tree-like monster, and the hand drawn illustrations that relate the creature’s tales are full of charm. The film has a wonderful visual style, that does not betray the serious tone, from the eye of it’s director. It also adds loads of atmosphere from Orphanage cinematographer Óscar Faura and an equally appropriate score from Orphanage composer Fernando Velázquez. A heartbreaking yet very well made film.
The cast also contributes much with exceptional performances all around. Young Lewis MacDougall is simply amazing with all the emotions he needs to convey as Connor. He presents a sweet natured young boy who must deal with a turmoil of feelings, including anger, with his mother slowly dying before his eyes and having to deal with both his stern grandmother and a bully at school, as well. The young actor is simply wonderful in a very emotionally heavy role. Felicity Jones will break your heart as the young mother trying to stay strong for her son. The actress gives a truly noble and endearing performance as a woman who will leave when she’s good and ready. Weaver is also very good as his grandmother. She’s is a tough women, but not a villain. Weaver let’s us see the pain she is in, watching her own child fading away and somehow having to deal with that and now raise her grandson. It’s a difficult place her character is in and while she may not handle every situation the right way, we do appreciate her position. Neeson, of course does top-notch work giving the monster both a nobility and a ferocity. He is a creature not without a bit of a heart, fierce as he can be. Neeson also appears in a photo as Connor’s grandfather who we assume is gone as well. Actor Tony Kebbell also has a minor role as Connor’s estranged dad.
In conclusion, this is a very well done and emotionally engaging movie. It is also, however, a very sad film and despite having a young boy as it’s focus, tackles that child facing some very adult decisions and emotions. The cast is exceptional and the film looks sumptuous and the movie works very well, despite it’s somber tone, thanks to a director who knows how to tell this kind of tale…with heart, albeit a broken one.
3 and 1/2 books on which this film is based.