A Monster Calls. Three simple words which we have been ordered to write on a post-it and leave for the Editor when his wife calls the office. However in this case its the film of a book by Patrick Ness which is a much better read than our post-it note and here Ness has also adapted it for the screen (the book that is not the post it note). Filmed by the talented Spanish director J. A. Bayona the film is located in a windswept Northern England village where 12 year old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), a bullied and beaten schoolboy, lives alone with his divorced mother, hauntingly played by Felicity Jones.
As if striving to cope as a single mother is not enough she puts on a brave face for her son as she also battles with terminal cancer. Their scenes are deeply affecting none more so than the end but as they each deal with their own troubles they draw comfort from each other and escape their worries in a beautiful scene where they watch the 1933 version of ‘King Kong’ on an old film projector. Their movie night in turn triggers, in Conor’s unconscious, the apparently monstrous tree which comes to life at night in a scene not too dissimilar from the one in ‘Poltergeist’ where the branches plunge through his bedroom window. With more than a passing resemblance to the Lord of the Rings character Treebeard and voiced by a booming Liam Neeson the tree turns out to be more of a guardian angel who tells him 3 tales to illustrate that good and evil co-exist. The 3 tales told at intervals throughout the film are beautifully depicted using different styles with the one in water colours being particularly good and the tree tells him that in exchange Conor must then tells him his own tale, which ultimately is more psychoanalysis than anything else. Conor’s life is unrelentingly miserable with his mother’s condition becoming ever worse and school offering him no relief from the torment of the three school bullies and the tales are intended to be parables for him to apply to his own situation and give clues as to how to cope with what life has dealt him.
This is a tearjerker with its own true life tragic background being based on a story by the late Siobhan Dowd who passed away at early age before she could finish the book with author Patrick Ness completing the book for her. Add to the mix that child actor Lewis Madogall lost his own mother in real life and the scenes have an added emotional impact and here are particularly poignant. With that in mind and despite the highly distinctive visuals it’s the emotional scenes which have greater impact, notably a scene where his loathed strait laced grandmother, played by Sigourney Weaver with a half decent English accent, insists that he stays with her at her nothing-out-of-its-place home with which he is unable to contain his rage and unleashes hell on the pristine house.
For director J.A. Bayona this is another assured piece of film making that tugs at the heart strings after ‘The Impossible’ and the superb, ‘The Orphanage’ and it bodes well that he should, for once, be able to bring some human emotion to his next film which is the Jurassic World sequel.
Here’s the trailer…….