Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Tuesday's Reviews - A Monster Calls (2017)

I've literally just got back from watching Logan and am desperately trying to finish today's review. My original plan was to watch something yesterday and write it up ahead of time so I wasn't rushed. Instead I spent most of my day off asleep and only just had time to watch today's film. As I have such a small window here I'm waiting until next week to write up Logan because I want to do it justice. Although, spoiler alert, I fucking loved it! I knew I would but it was so good. Despite the fact the we waited for a post-credits scene and there wasn't one. It was just nice to sit and take events in whilst listening to Johnny Cash. I guess it's good that there wasn't actually anything after the credits. It ensure that the ending was as powerful as it needed to be. Gah, it was an emotional experience which means after watching A Monster Calls yesterday means I've been emotionally drained for the past 2 evenings. I need to start watching some happier films.

I've only ever read one Patrick Ness book and, if I'm honest, I really didn't think that highly of it. It was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which has to be one of the most disappointing reads for me. It sounded like such a good concept but it was wasted. So I haven't bothered with any more of Ness' works because it just seemed like the type of YA nonsense that gives Young Adult fiction in general a bad name for me. I know there must be good YA out there but I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of it. Anyway, as a keen member of the Bookstagram community I have heard plenty about his children's book A Monster Calls. Certainly enough to get kind of excited when I saw the trailers for the film and heard Liam Neeson's voice coming out of the titular monster. However, I knew it was going to be sad but I wasn't prepared for just how bloody sad it is.

A Monster Calls is the story of a young boy, Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall), who is dealing with his mother's (Felicity Jones) terminal cancer, his overbearing and stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), the school bully, and his absent father (Toby Kebbell). After waking from the same nightmare night after night, Connnor encounters a monster (Liam Neeson) that springs to life from the Yew tree that he can see from his bedroom window. The monster will visit Connor and tell him 3 true stories. After the third tale, Connor must tell his own story and reveal his truth. The stories help Connor come to terms with his situation and force him to face the awful truth that he has been trying to suppress.

A Monster Calls is such a simple and heartbreaking idea. What must it be life for a young boy who is watching his mother die of cancer? It deals with very dark and mature ideas but does so in such a tender and beautiful way. The fantastical elements and the Monster's animated stories all work well against the bleak nature of the tale to make it a deeply engrossing and incredibly poignant film. Everything builds toward the final act and when the payoff comes it has the ability to absolutely destroy it's audience. It may slightly hammer its point home but it never loses sight of what it's trying to do. It is offering wisdom about an important and horrible topic whilst never losing it's compassion for the character's involved. It's not quite perfect but it does what it needs to.

I think my only thoughts would be that the film is still slightly too dark for a very young audience but older members will be drawn in with the visual aspects and engrossing tale. The monster itself, played by Liam Neeson using motion capture, is incredibly realised. There can be no denying that the film is a technical marvel. Everything integrates together to create something that is very unique but perfect for the story it's trying to tell. It is a tale about art, legacy, truth and humanity. It is the story of about the love between a mother and child and the impact that can have on the people involved. The visual aspects of the film help give this a sense of fairy tale and allow it to transcend reality.

However, thanks to the fantastic performances from the human characters, the harsh reality of Connor's situation always remains. Connor is a boy who is having to grow up too fast and deal with emotions that he is not ready to deal with. He has nobody to turn to and is left unsure of where to turn. You can't help but be drawn to him and Lewis MacDougall's performance is vulnerable and hard to ignore. Something that works so well with Felicity Jones' role as his mother. She is both strong and weak. A mother wishing to shield her son from pain but realising that she no longer can. It is a heartbreaking performance that, along with MacDougall's, will have everyone weeping before the credits role.

A Monster Calls has a difficult job to do and a difficult story to tell. Whilst it doesn't always manage to establish the type of tone it was striving for or achieve the purpose it wanted. However, it always manages to keep you guessing and always avoid being predictable. It is repetitive and unsubtle but is manages to be something that will keep you watching. It's the kind of dark and creative kid's that will no doubt be mostly appreciated by an older audience. I'm just glad that I didn't watch it in the cinema. It would have been a pretty messy affair.

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