The standard at this year’s London Film Festival is already impressive. However, I don’t think anything will strike as much of an emotional chord with me this year as A Monster Calls. Based on his book of the same name, Patrick Ness brings his poignant story to a new audience, directed by J.A Bayona. I for one admit I’d never read his book, but I may do so now.
A Monster Calls is the story of 12 year old Conor O’Malley, who is facing something no child should have to face – the loss of his mother, who is battling cancer. As she fights on, Conor immerses himself in the world of his imagination, through his drawings, and it is here where the yew tree in the grounds of the churchyard at the back of their house comes to life; every night at 12:07 the monster comes to call (although, personally I didn’t really see the tree as a monster). The tree will tell him three stories and then Conor must tell it his story; his deepest secret.
It is certainly a powerful and emotional subject, but A Monster Calls handles the themes of loss and grief in a deeply moving and thought-provoking way. The world of Conor’s imagination and the tree’s stories, designed to help him deal with the truth, are brought to life through beautiful animation, which enables the fantasy to merge with the reality just as the colours in Conor’s drawings do.
Added to the animation is the quality of the visual effects – namely the visualisation of the mighty tree. It’s superbly done and what at first may seem frightening to the younger viewer, soon becomes a source of comfort to this lost little boy. Liam Neeson voices the tree and is the perfect actor to do so, bringing the requisite gravitas that is both a little intimidating, but also kind and I loved the bond that grows between boy and tree.
Felicity Jones breaks your heart as Conor’s mum, who would do anything to have more time with her son. In my view she’s one of Britain’s finest actresses and this is another touching performance from her. Sigourney Weaver is also very good as Conor’s grandma, struggling to find a way to connect with him as he grows more and more angry with life.
However, the star of this film is young Lewis MacDougall. He is superb as Conor and you become more and more emotionally invested in his story as the film unfolds. I defy you not to be crying by the end, especially with the added beauty of Fernando Velaquez’s score.
I wasn’t sure what to expect before I saw this film, but it will be one of my film highlights of the year and is sure to break your heart, but also remind you of the power of love and courage and how those we love will always live on through our memories.
A Monster Calls opens on 6th January 2017 in the UK and the USA. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ