2016 BFI: LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – A MONSTER CALLS (2016) – SPOILER FREE REVIEW
Thanks to my wonderful BFI-card-carrying wife I have had the pleasure of attending a number of Gala screenings in the last few years at the LFF. Last year I saw the premiere of Suffragette (2015) and this year we got tickets for A Monster Calls. I am also due to see several other films at the LFF too; therefore, I will be posting some short spoiler-free reviews about the films for your consideration.
TITLE: A MONSTER CALLS (2016)
DIRECTOR: J. A. Bayona – (The Orphanage (2007), The Impossible (2012), Penny Dreadful (2014)
SCREENPLAY: Patrick Ness (from the book by Patrick Ness/Siobhan Dodd)
CAST: Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell
STORY: Connor, a 13-year old boy, struggling to come to terms with his mother’s cancer, finds his life turned upside down by the appearance of a monster from the woods.
REVIEW: This beautifully told story treads familiar ground where fantasy is used by a child to deal with real life trauma. Narratives by Roald Dahl and JK Rowling are perfect examples of this, plus films such as: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Time Bandits (1981) and Pans Labyrinth (2006) contained magical worlds and monsters that utilised fantasy as a barrier to the pain of everyday experience. While A Monster Calls is good it’s arguably not as iconic as the classic films mentioned, however, it is a story with grand power, imagination and heart-breaking pathos.
The performances of all involved are excellent, notably Lewis MacDougall as the angry and afraid Connor. Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona directs very confidently. His dark palette of live action, effects and animation give the audience an exciting canvas to gorge on and Liam Neeson’s monster is, while initially threatening, a fantastic screen beast. The stories-within-a-story structure are deftly weaved and overall this is a film which, while scaring the very young, will provide fine entertainment for most the family. My only criticism is the adult roles were slightly under-written and more drama could have been mined between the likes of Kebbell, Weaver and Jones’ characters.
The original book has won loads of prizes for the author Patrick Ness but the fascinating backstory is the idea was proposed by cancer sufferer Siobhan Dodd. Thus, it is a sad caveat that she never got to see her vision on the page or on the screen. Nonetheless, one expects that the book and subsequent film will give hope to people dealing with life-threatening illness and grief on a daily basis. More than anything though stories, fantasy or otherwise, are the lifeblood of escape and provide assurance and security in an insecure world.