Saturday, December 10, 2016

Movie Review: A MONSTER CALLS (Review #3)

A Monster Calls is the third film by Spanish director J.A. Bayona. The film follows the story of a young boy dealing with his mother being very ill and being bullied at school as he is visited in his dreams by a monster set on teaching him some kind of life lesson. The film stars Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson as the Monster. I was floored by this movie as it was a wonderful combination of stunningly beautiful and emotionally resonant. One of the best films of the year.

Deciding where to begin with the positives is challenging in a film as good as this one. I think that the most obvious place to begin is with the direction of the film, which is brilliantly done. Bayona brings a wonderful visual style to the film that really works and, additionally, gets excellent performances out of every actor in the film. The film is beautifully shot (and full credit is owed to cinematographer Oscar Faura, who has partnered with Bayona on both of this prior films) but where the direction goes to the next level is blending the live action shooting with animated elements that are included in this film. Everything felt entirely seamless which only a really special filmmaker could achieve.

The performances in this film are also universally great. Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver are brilliant in their roles and bring so much subtlety to their characters imploring you to actually care about them. Young Lewis MacDougall is similarly great in that he convinces you he is a young kid dealing with these problems and having very “kid-like” tendencies which is not-often seen in child heroes. He also blends this with a real understandable aura of maturity which comes with the difficult situation he is put in in this film. Finally, Liam Neeson is superb as the voice of the Monster. People often say they would want Morgan Freeman to narrate their life, Neeson in this film gives any Freeman narration a run for its money (or totally surpasses it in many instances). It was strong, beautiful, and engaging and was the perfect casting in that part.

Although I have discussed how beautifully directed this film is, I also do want to give some credit to the art department on this film. This film is fairly visually creative and beautiful. Some elements of the monster and their world have been clearly influenced by things we know (Lord of the Rings really stood out in this regard) but the way they are used and executed was so interesting that this felt like an entirely original visual art design.

The last major positive (and probably the most important) is the quality of the storytelling. Patrick Ness, who wrote the original novel. penned the screenplay for the film. The partnership between him and Bayona seems to have worked brilliantly as this film wove a story I was invested in and broke me emotionally. Like another film that moved me earlier this year, this film deals with a theme that I personally struggle with and, when executed well, can elicit a deep emotional reaction in me. A Monster Calls absolutely achieved that and the final portion of this film hit me very, very hard. On that ground alone I’d recommend this film but, with all the other positives as well, I think the film is brilliant.

I have one tiny gripe with this film that is somewhat hard to discuss in any detail without spoiling the film. What I will say is that the film didn’t end right. It has a very poignant moment where the story was done for me but that is not the moment where the film actually finished. Nothing after that moment was terrible (and it will be important for some viewers) but, for me, that post-moment material wound down my emotional involvement in the film before hitting the ultimate conclusion. This disappointed me and is the only reason I couldn’t score it any higher.

I loved A Monster Calls. It is one of my favorite films of the year and definitely something everyone should check out. J.A. Bayona continues to impress and I am now more excited than ever to see what he can bring to the table with the Jurassic World sequel due in 2018.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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