By Ryan Keating-Lambert
One of the stand-outs at Prague Febio Fest so far, A Monster Calls is a carefully constructed masterpiece that dwells on life and death, and everything in between. A superb exercise in psychology and grief through the eyes of a child.
Based on the popular book by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls sees young Conor (Lewis MacDougall), trying to cope with his mother’s terminal cancer (Felicity Jones). A tree-like monster (Liam Neeson) soon begins to visit him to tell stories and guide and comfort him through the long ordeal.
This is another fantastic drama packed to the brim with raw emotion from Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible). It’s quite upsetting, but equally gorgeous in both narrative and art direction, not to mention performances.
Lewis McDougall is the brightest of them all here as Conor. His hope and denial are conveyed brilliantly. There’s real heart here, and a lot to be learned from the character of Conor. He’s an essential case study for both children and adults alike. Full of dreams and aspirations, but struggles with the bottled-up rage and confusion that comes with such profound loss. He often reminded me of the young Tom Holland in The Impossible.
Sigourney Weaver also has a strong presence as the fussy and overpowering grandmother and serves as a wonderful antithesis to Conor. Felicity Jones also delivers as the sick mother, but the real character and performance here is the mysterious monster voiced by Liam Neeson, and the seamless art direction attached to this vibrant and splashy underworld that Conor dives into head first.
The stories told by the monster are captured by vivid watercolour animations that spring to life through the moving soundtrack by Fernando Velazquez. Each story as poetic and packed with symbolism as the next. There’s so much detail here thatyou’d probably benefit from giving the film a second watch. The tree-like design of the monster himself looks like something out of a Guillermo Del Toro film, but also pays tribute to the original book illustrations by Jim Kay.
Bayona really has a gift for fleshing out raw emotion and intensity in his films. Conor’s recurring nightmare scene is powerful and harks back to that first wave scene in The Impossible. There’s also an in depth analysis of narratives… in this narrative (haha). You can pinpoint the exact moment when Conor realises that not everything has a happy ending, and it’s heartbreaking but just perfect. Finally something that’s not smothered in Hollywood goodness, and really tells it like it is.
So many trailers now say ‘from the visionary director…’ and it’s getting really tiresome, but for Bayona that might actually be true. A Monster Calls also cleaned up at the Spanish Goya Awards. 9 wins in total including Best Director.
Catch it at Febio Fest this week.
Photo: Screen Rant