Part I: A Short Review
(To read about the visuals of the film, please see Part II: Why I Think A Monster Calls is a Work of Art)
By now, there are lots of reviews online for the new movie by J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls. The film has been extremely well received by audiences and critics alike. Even though the reviews are positive, a number of them have said that the film is extremely sad and depressing. Don’t believe them! There is a difference between an emotional movie and a depressing movie. A Monster Calls will take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions but it is not depressing. It’s not the kind of movie where you come out of the cinema and think “What’s the point of living?” and then throw yourself in front of a moving bus. No, no, no. It’s the opposite of that! It’s the kind of movie where you come out and think “Life isn’t always fair, I will experience pain and loss… but there is also love and joy and truth and beauty and freedom, and in the end… I’ll be ok”. That’s what it’s like coming out of the cinema after A Monster Calls. Now, if you are one of the poor souls whom I managed to lure here to my blog to read a review in order to help you decide if you should watch this movie, let me help you by keeping it short – go watch it. It’s a beautifully told story about a boy who has to deal with the fact that his mother has a terminal illness. The monster is basically the boy’s coping mechanism (I’m not saying too much about this but there are other sources online if you wish to know more, but you really shouldn’t). The film is based on a book by Patrick Ness, from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, and stars Felicity Jones as the mom, Toby Kebbell as the dad, Liam Neeson as the voice of the monster; and it also has Sigourney Weaver as the grandmother of young Conor O’Malley, played so brilliantly by Lewis MacDougall.
With this kind of movies, there is a tendency to try to manipulate the emotions of the audience. However, even though there are numerous emotional scenes (especially in the second half of this film), I never really felt like Bayona was trying to manipulate my feelings. It felt more like he was presenting me with a beautiful story, and I was free to take this story whichever way I wanted. I may find it emotional, or I may not… and either way seems to be fine. His focus seems to be in telling a story as best as he can, and not in manipulating as many people as he can, and this is one reason why this movie works so well. It’s a well told story, and it doesn’t feel forced. (Sure, the violins do come on at the end but by then, you’re willing to go wherever the movie takes you… you’re sold.) The other reason why this movie works is because they cast an amazing actor for the role of Conor (but more on that in my next blog post). The music for the movie is by Fernando Velázquez, who also composed the music for all of Bayona’s previous films, and he does an amazing job again, violins and all (although the piano features more prominently in some slower tracks).
A Monster Calls is a movie that makes you contemplate life, of your own and of those around you. Ultimately, it’s a movie about being truthful to yourself, and how that truth can set you free. Movies like this one are the reason why I love cinema. There aren’t many movies like this anymore… and certainly not many that are made this beautifully by everyone involved. Go watch it, seriously.
A trailer for this movie is included below.