The movie adaptation of A Monster Calls features an impressive cast, the same tragic and redemptive story that made the book such a success and incredible CGI effects to bring the mew tree monster to life. However, ultimately it’s a DVD release with limited appeal and while the film has picked up a fair amount of good reviews, with an overall positive critical response, we really can’t see it being on too many wish lists.
It’s a very well produced film, that does a good job of validating the rationale for its transition from literature to the silver screen earlier in 2017, where it will have been even more impressive visually. Director, J. A. Bayona (Jurassic World 2) has done the Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd low fantasy novel proud with his recreation of the story, getting the best out of the cast and swirling in the right mix of visualisation and narrative to make it stand up well as a film.
The story is told with great understanding of the subject matter with young Conner O’Malley staring down the barrel of his mother’s terminal cancer and dealing with the heartache of it all as best he can. With a school bully, stern gandmother and oversees father, the progression of his mum’s cancer is too much to take and he’s visited by a giant monster who has arrived to help him through the painful situation.
Conceptually, it feels like a cross between Kes, Lord Of The Rings and Life Of Pi, which helps to make the film worth a watch. However, with such heavy subject matter, it’s a tough one to make it through, which means that it’s not really the kind of film many people will want to add to their DVD collection. Watching sad films can sometimes feel like a chore, especially for the younger audience that A Monster Calls is targeted at. There’s an element of this here, but the redemptive culmination of the story and the larger than larger than life monster help to take the edge off a little.
A Monster Calls trailer:
Lewis MacDougal (Pan) is excellent as Conner, delivering a lot of grounding to the film, despite his young age. He’s got some equally weighty support from Felicity Jones (Rogue One) as his mother Lizzie and Sigourney Weaver (The Defenders) as his grandmother. Liam Neeson (A Million Ways To Die In The West) is perfect as the voice of the monster with gravelly tones and innate wisdom built into his delivery, which is one of the big reasons the film works as well as it does.
Toby Kebbel (Kong: Skull Island) is probably the only loose end in the film as he continues to have an odd fit with the roles he plays. He’s clearly a talented star, with brilliant voice acting as Koba in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, but he somehow doesn’t feel right for some of his parts, whether it’s the challenge of Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four (2014), or the Roman might of Messala in the recent remake of Ben-Hur. In A Monster Calls he just doesn’t seem like he could be Conner’s dad for some reason, but it’s hard to say why. Maybe there’s a bit too much effort in trying to get the balance between closeness and distance right, but whatever it is, it doesn’t work as well as it could.
Visually, the film works on a number of levels with both strong CGI effects and exceptional cinematography from director of photography, Óscar Faura (The Imitation Game), who has a deft touch with perspective and style. It might have been nice for more to have been made of the Monster’s three stories, but budget probably kept this to the stylised animation that was used. It gives the film something different, but it lacks some of the impact that a bigger production might have had.
Overall, A Monster Calls is an impressive adaptation of the novel that deserves all of the good reviews it’s picked up since it’s release. However, the DVD isn’t going to be for everyone with a slow build-up, tough storyline and the skimmed treatment of the Monster’s stories and their life lessons.
A Monster Calls DVD review: 3.5/5