A Breath-Taking Dark Fantasy Masterpiece
J. A. Bayona delivers a career-defining film with the dark fantasy A Monster Calls. Centered around a child’s confrontation with loss and mortality, A Monster Calls follows young Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) being raised by his single mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones). Conor is facing the cruel prospect of losing his mother, as Lizzie is fighting an advanced form of cancer. While Connor’s absentee father (played solidly by Toby Kebbell) and his severely strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) weave in and out of this story, we see events unfold from the viewpoint of Connor, and of course, the Monster.
Supremely voiced and motion-capture acted by Liam Neeson, the Monster comes to Connor late one night and presents a simple proposition – he will visit over a number of days and tell Connor three stories; and once they have been told, it is Connor’s turn to tell the Monster a story, and it is to be Connor’s ‘truth’. If this all seems perplexing or inconsequential to the story of Connor and his mother; consider the Monster’s stories as parables – confounding allegories that reflect a cynical worldview where life is not black and white, but shades of dark grays. In regards to Connor’s story – he may not realize it, but he knows the story he is to tell the Monster when the time comes. The Monster’s fables may guide him, but the struggle will be Connor’s alone as to whether he will have the courage to utter is ultimate ‘truth’.
Written by Patrick Ness, and based on his novel of the same name; A Monster Calls has echoes of another dark fantasy film; the Hitchaboo winning Pan’s Labyrinth. Much like that film, A Monster Calls balances a perfect blend of the fantastical with the grounded. Working as two separate but parallel narratives; both of the stories, Connor’s life coping with his ailing mother and his confrontations with the Monster, stand on their own. Together they build towards an emotional apex that captures Connor’s feelings of helplessness and need for cessation.
Filmed in Lancashire and Preston in the United Kingdom, enough cannot be said about the effectiveness of the bleak North English countryside to establish tone and atmosphere. Beautifully nightmarish, each visit from the Monster is a gothic fairytale. Conjointly, Bayona makes choice decisions to animate sequence that accompany each of the Monster’s fables; and delicately incorporates computer generated imagery for the Monster.
Altogether, J. A. Bayona leverages his choices on cast, mood, and tone; prudent employment of CGI, and confident execution of script to elevate A Monster Calls into greatness. This is a film composed by a director at the absolute peak of his abilities. A crowning achievement with immense emotional weight, A Monster Calls is a candid meditation on mortality without equals.
- Special Effects: 9/10 – Gracefully executed and blends seamlessly
- Acting: 8/10 – Neeson’s voice acting provides potent emotional power
- Cinematography: 10/10 – Handsomely moody and melancholy
- Screenwriting: 10/10 – A monument of emotional heft
- Directing: 10/10 – Bayona uses everything in his toolbox to bring this film to life
10/10, A Monster Calls is a tour de force for director J. A. Bayona; who brings a singular vision coupled with exceptional control to deliver a film that will anchor itself to your core.