FOCUS FEATURES (2017)

 

Director: J.A. Bayona

 

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebell, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson

Based on the book of the same name by author Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls delivers a dark-themed coming of age story centring on young Conor O’Malley, whilst hurtling towards a seemingly devastating conclusion, told via three stories related by a giant tree. What happens during this tapestry however isn’t gripping enough to deliver the knockout blow.

 

The quiet moments between Conor and his mother are genuinely touching and emotionally heavy to watch, without feeling the need to smack us around the head with the subject matter. The characters treat the illness as an absolute, it is what it is and nothing can change it, however Conor struggles with this outlook and rails against it.

These moments within the movie add up to some good cinema, it is however when the tree comes into the scene that the movie becomes slightly unhinged. This time, the tree really does beat us over the head with explanations and lengthy dialogue all delivered in Liam Neeson’s barely hidden Irish tongue, and a large chunk of the movie is dedicated to this aspect.

 

The visuals are OK throughout the film, though somewhat jarring moving from mundane daily life and antiquated grandmother dwellings, to a giant angry tree to jaunty animation. For a fantasy story, these elements should all seem simple and seamless, but it is distracting as the movie goes on. The visual set pieces overpowered the story that was being told, and that was to the detriment of the final product.

 

There’s nothing wrong with the performances, however, as throughout the standard is high. Lewis MacDougall shines as young Conor as the movie unfolds, fully losing himself in the gravitas of the situation as the film nears it’s conclusion. It is an impressive performance. Felicity Jones is dependably reliable within her role and pulls off the nuances with a gentle despair. Sigourney Weaver – please never attempt a British accent again. I’m not quite sure of the reasoning behind the casting choice there? She was good as the stern, seemingly uncaring grandmother, but the accent wasn’t good.

 

Unfortunately, the movie dragged too much for this persons liking, mainly due to the stories recounted by our tree buddy – stories of soul searching and with hidden, subconscious meaning throughout, the problem is they weren’t really very good and the build up to the final pay off didn’t deliver sufficiently enough. Too little too late. (Too much, too late?)

 

Certainly not the worst movie ever, very, very far from it and there were many great moments throughout – Grandmothers’ living room destruction, the tender moments between mother and son, the final, crashing, loud finale before the conclusion – combined with some fine performances. It would appear however that Bayona wasn’t sure whether to create a film for children or for adults and ended up landing somewhere in the middle, and ended up with a good film, as opposed to a great film.

 

If the monster calls, I’m not in…

January 25th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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