Having viewed this film in the spacious and lovely surroundings of a new screen at Everyman Chelmsford, where me and my girlfriend sat comfortably on a plush sofa, A Monster Calls is a wonderfully realised adaptation of a children's novel that sets itself apart from other children fantasy stories.
Based upon the book by Patrick Ness and adapted for the screen by the same writer, J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) directs with aplomb in bringing the fictional tale of a young boy Conor (Lewis MacDougall) having to come to terms with the impending death of his young mum (Felicity Jones) from cancer whilst dealing with the fleeting visits of his estranged father (Toby Kebbell) and the conflicting relationship with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).
To take solace from the grief and anger Conor is feeling, he has the fantasy life of bringing an old Yew tree he can see from his bedroom window to life. Every night at 12.07am, the tree comes to Conor's window with a morality tale for Conor to listen to, from these the tree hopes that Conor will learn some life lessons for his day-to-day life.
The tree is voiced by Liam Neeson and his booming deep voice adds gravitas to the tree as this all conquering being, that has seen many things over the years bringing his authority to the voiceover work.
The tree in CGI is very convincing and Bayona does well with the scenes either shot in daylight or nighttime; but the real jewel in the film are the animated sequences that tell the three tales the tree tells Conor. The tales are told with such panache featuring faceless people, therefore, rendering them universal in their themes.
One tale makes Conor state that he/she is a monster, but the tree says not everyone is a monster because you merely label them as such; notice I refer to the tree as a tree and not the Monster the title suggests. Perhaps the Monster calling is not not a physical being and more of metaphorical unstoppable beast such as the cancer that makes Conor's Mum succumb.
The acting in the film throughout is superb but young MacDougall outdoes his older peers by carrying the film in a way rarely seen in mainstream films, but the other star is Bayona who directs with such a vision and confidence - count the number of match-to-match shots throughout - shooting it like a graphic novel with a deliberate mise-en-scene and composition; lighting it adroitly and getting the right balance of performance and action. There is a nice seamlessness to the film from the understated score to the editing and production design.
A minor flaw would be the lack of conviction in the father-son dynamic, merely stating they were young and he had to leave, was not enough for this viewer; yet Felicity Jones brings real emotion to her performance as a dying young woman who wants to make sure her son remains creative and happy once she is gone.
A Monster Calls is a film that by the end of 2017 should rightly remain lauded and praised, and shown to as many young children/adults as possible. In our screen were families who came to see the film, a good sign that they came for the story and perhaps not the CGI.
A Monster Calls is out now in all cinemas