Saturday, January 7, 2017

"A Monster Calls" Review

The writer and his thoughts

The critically-acclaimed fantasy novel A Monster Calls makes the vivid leap from page to screen courtesy of author/screenwriter Patrick Ness and visionary director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, the upcoming Jurassic World sequel). Coming-of-age drama and B-movie homages combine to create a "monster movie" unlike any this reviewer has seen before. 

A Monster Calls tells the story of young Connor (newcomer Lewis MacDougall) who has trouble coping with the deteriorating health of his mother (Felicity Jones). His struggle is amplified by school bullies, an overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and a father (Toby Kebbell) who has been away for most of the boy's upbringing. Guiding Connor through his grief is a walking, talking yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) that looks an awful lot like some freakish evolved form of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. The monster ultimately tries to convince Connor that the only way to move on is to "speak the truth" of his feelings. 

It's a bit difficult to tell who this film is trying to tell its story to. It's far too cerebral for families, yet most of its big ideas are communicated through gorgeous, "Disney-fied" animated sequences and characters. It's also not violent enough to satisfy the Comic-Con crowd. Having said that, the film makes several nods to B-movie classics such as King Kong and The Invisible Man. When "the Monster" first appears, the score (beautifully composed by Fernando Velasquez) builds to a crescendo that evokes the reveals of many a fearsome Ray Harryhausen beast. Also, both King Kong and The Invisible Man represent crucial motifs that define Connor's grief. Kong and "the Monster" are both literally larger-than-life "protectors," for lack of a better word, and H.G. Wells' character serves as an allegory for how Connor wishes to be perceived by his classmates. He's fed up with being "invisible" to everyone, even eventually to the school bullies. 

Another beautifully handled motif is that of "time." "The Monster" always arrives when the clock turns over to 12:07. Connor's grandmother has an old clock that she warns him not to touch because it always tells the correct time. Obviously all of this relates to Connor's mum and her worsening condition. Time is rapidly running out for Connor to, as he originally thinks, "save" her.

So, with its heart in seemingly several different places, and its emotions firmly on its sleeve, it would be safe to call this Monster a bit of a mess. But, in the end, that may be the whole point. The story constantly reminds us that life isn't, and shouldn't always be, squeaky clean. "If you feel the need to break things, then, by God, you break them," says Connor's tearful mum some time after the boy makes mincemeat of his grandmother's sitting room. Heck, the whole crux of the film is about overcoming everything we fear most. That's always tricky business. 


No comments:

Post a Comment