Review: Before A Monster Calls gets you an sentimental trance or emotional concussion, please hold back your river of tears for a while and know that it’s not a typical tearjerking grief-porn. Instead, it’s a beautiful tale of acceptance and letting go in a form of a visually captivating, profound narrative of how a coming-of-age child revolves around fear, grief and depression.
Coming from the vision of Juan Antonio Bayona—the director who brought you The harrowing yet lovely Orphanage, and disaster drama, The Impossible—A Monster Calls is a blend of fantasy monster story and a heartwrenching coming-of-age drama, centering on a boy, “too old to be a kid, yet too young to be a man,” named Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). Apparently, his life isn’t a fortunate one: his mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill, his father (Toby Kebbell) is a half-world away in America, his classmates bully him for being different, and, in case, everything goes awry, he’s gotta live with his grandma (Sigourney Weaver), whom he never fits to. There’s no escape for Conor until finally a monster comes to his room.
A monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), in a shape of tall, old yew tree with fiery-glowing eyes, comes at night to help Conor. Possibly a relative of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot or Lord of the Rings’ Ent, the giant monster doesn’t intend to cure anyone, not even beat up anyone, nor transporting Conor anywhere; he only comes to tell 3 different stories in 3 different nights. When he finishes the third story, he urges Conor to tell the fourth—a truth he never tells anywhere, an essence of his nightmare.
Patrick Ness, who write the book (continuing the mantle of writing from an embryo conceived by Siobhan Dowd, who ironically passed away from cancer), who also pens the script for the film, crafts A Monster Calls as a structurally-deviant from similar children fiction (but, who says it’s intended for children?). Yet, it is beautiful in every aspect of the story: the dialogue, the symbolism, the characterization and the use of allegory to enhance the story-telling. Dabbling more onto the story feels like reading a visualized book; but deeper, the grip is stronger it penetrates your emotional cord and leaves a mark.
It takes time to grasp A Monster Calls as a holistic with the story within the story structure. Yet, Óscar Faura’s captivating cinematography along with stylish editing (especially on several scene transition) and wonderful mise-en-scene guides your eyes to sweep the palette of natural suburban landscape combined with water-color animation before you finally tune in with the story. Through the visual panache and poignant narrative, A Monster Calls finds depth in unravelling the nature of fear, grief, and depression; only to deconstruct it into what matters most: refusing the comforting lies and accepting the bitter truth to finally move forward.
The beautiful story is only as beautiful as the ensemble of cast. Felicity Jones once again transmits her stronger performance when she’s not under the spotlight. As a terminally ill mother who tries to look strong before her son, Jones highlights the ‘struggle’ part triumphing over the cancer. On the loose end, Sigourney Weaver as a grandma emanates an opposite persona to Jones’ character; and that’s positive. Toby Kebbell’s small roles really plays the supporting side tenderly as tender as Liam Neeson’s voice of a Liam Neeson we used to know. However, the star of A Monster Calls is no other than the newcomer, Lewis MacDougan.
A kind of performance hauled by MacDougall always makes me wish there are more acknowledgement for children actors; say the Academy should have a Best Performance by Child Actor. Under Bayona, MacDougall isn’t only transmitting a cheap, soap-opera style sadness. It is not the sadness anymore his character is facing, it’s beyond that—the fear that everything’s changed by the future. Conor is forced to be a grown-up before he’s ready and he’s sick of it. He only wants to keep the status quo; he only wants to be a kid; he only wants his mother. Yet, his time is ticking off as the terminal cancer is gnawing his mother slowly, but we know, surely. That’s where MacDougan’s performance matters; therefore, we could feel the same fear, the same unwillingness, the same reluctance.
The all beauty A Monster Calls presents only makes sure that the emotional message is transmitted properly. By the end of the film, with lumps on your throat (or possibly tears in your puffy eyes), A Monster Calls as a tale of acceptance and letting go feels much beautiful. It’s majestic. It’s heartwarming. It feels very personal. And, most importantly, it won’t let go.
A Monster Calls (2016)
This review is supported by Book My Show Indonesia.