A MONSTER CALLS
DIRECTED BY J.A. BAYONA
SCREENPLAY BY PATRICK NESS
BASED ON A BOOK BY PATRICK NESS
BASED ON AN ORIGINAL IDEA BY SIOBHAN DOWD
MUSIC BY FERNANDO VELÁZQUEZ
“Tear Up This Town” by Tim Rice-Oxley, Tom Chapin, Richard Hughes, and Jesse Quinn
Performed by Keane
Film on location in England and Spain
Before I get into the review of a pretty serious film about serious subjects, let me give you a rare *Spoiler Alert* that you know I refuse to include. Normally. These are not normal times. Be strong. Oh. I’m not telling you that; that’s what I said to Elizabeth Himelstein, Sigourney Weaver’s dialect coach. Every time Ripley appeared on screen my entire body clenched and I could only picture Ms Himelstein crying silently in a corner as they shot take after take. I’m not sure what part of the U.K. she is supposed to be from, but they have bad accents that come and go and match no one in their families or anyone else in the film. Perhaps she was going for a Kevin Costner “Robin Hood” kind of thing.
Enough of that. As always, I’m assuming you have seen the posters and the trailers and we’re all adults here. (If we aren’t, your kids area learning new grown-up words!) His beautiful, heartbreakingly frail mum (Felicity Jones) holds him with delicate hands and inhales him with eyes growing larger every day in her wasting face. You know why Conor (Lewis MacDougall) needs help, needs more than a shoulder. Conor is about to fall and he needs someone or something to reach out a hand before he is pulled under and apart by all the heartbreak and terror ready to bury him alive. But, even if he is pulled from the darkness in time, will he really be saved? And isn’t this all too much to ask of a twelve-year-old?
When he is first introduced, he is described as no longer a child, but not old enough to be an adult. That bothered me. When did twelve become an age when they are no longer children? We have more than seventy years to live now, can’t we allow a couple more years to play and be without the things we have to burden us? Why did our children have to be terrified by the results of elections and referendums recently? If there were something we could do to shield our young ones from hurt, but we can’t even protect ourselves.
We can’t, but something else can. Something so terrifying it can only be called The Monster (Liam Neeson). As Conor’s mother tells him, anything we don’t understand we fear and so we call them monsters. Maybe that is why he is not as afraid of a towering, fire-breathing figure composed of the twisted branches, twigs, and roots of the yew tree Conor can see from his bedroom room. It is certainly a creature from nightmares, but it tells the boy it has come to help. Just what form that help will take is impossible to imagine.
How can anyone help a boy so consumed with rage? Impotent fury at the bullies at his school, anger at his father, and hatred for his grandmother (Weaver) — he seethes with outrage even as he tries to hold on to his mother, the only one he really has. So? What is a monster with stories going to do? Huh?
Oh! These stories! Such inklike and exquisite animation emulating watercolour illustrations in fairy tale books… That’s all I can tell you about them, but I would love to look at them again and again. All of the effects and animation in A MONSTER CALLS are stunning. Of course, with a script by YA author Patrick Ness you can be assured the story is compelling, though this film will appeal more to adults than to the under-twenty-one crowd. (Proven to me by reactions of age groups in the audience.)
The greatest effect is the cast itself. When MacDougall first looks into the camera you absolutely know he is a boy but, with his expression and the intensity in his eyes, looking back at you is the man. Blink and he will be that man looking back at you again, I hope. The choice of Toby Kebbell was inspired, not just for his deft turn as an uncertain dad in impossible circumstances, but for his amazing likeness to the boy. Felicity Jones is as gifted an actress as any on the scene today and a perfect choice for someone whose heart grows stronger as her body grows weaker. Sigourney Weaver’s performance is difficult to evaluate without bringing it down to that cringe-worthy accent; sometimes a lesser-known actor works better in such a role without screaming “Sigourney!” every time they appear.
And The Monster? Liam Neeson has a singular voice. He can scream. Oh, yeah. He can scream obscenities, threats, descriptions of skill sets that make him a nightmare for someone like you or that he can’t be apart from you any longer and will bring you back. In a whisper he can tell you exactly what he is going to do to you when he finds your scumbag self or what he is going to do to your body when he comes home with a bottle of that wine you both love. He can talk softy of loss or disappointment or strength or being there. He can be The Monster, but he can never stay the nightmare, somehow. Some guys just can’t win.
As I said, we are all grown-up and we know the cycle of life. You may or may not know one thing that is going to end. What you don’t know, is the end. I promise. No spoilers between us, right?