Very rarely, you experience something that feels like a punch to the gut. That feeling of a thud, followed by a deep resounding reverberation through your stomach, and then your chest, and all you can muster is a gentle ‘oh’ that leaves your mouth more as an exhalation than as a word.
I have had this particular feeling very few times in my life, and I have never quite had that feeling while watching a film before. That is, until, I watched A MONSTER CALLS.
Based on Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, A MONSTER CALLS follows young Connor, a boy coping with more than any child should have to deal with – the impending loss of his mother. His world is punctuated with the calming sound of pencil against paper, sketching and illustrating his pain and everything he cannot possibly say.
Then one night, at precisely 12.07am, the Monster arrives at his window.
I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot than I have to, because this film is best experienced free of prior knowledge. Whilst I am generally an advocate of reading the book before watching the film adaption, I think this film is perhaps most powerfully felt by a viewer who knows very little of the story before going into the theatre.
A major factor is the power of this film is the art direction and styling of the film. There is so much thought that has gone into every square inch of colour and movement overseen and the vivid colours play such a role in how we react to Connor’s story. The use of watercolour like animation to depict the Monster’s telling of stories is strikingly beautiful and brings a warmth to the film that is often cut short by the harshness of Connor’s reality, making us value the incredible moments of escapism even more.
However, the thing that struck me the most in this film was the use of silence. Only one other film has used silence as masterfully as A MONSTER CALLS does (in my own viewing experience that is). So much of this film is brought to us in diegetic silence, as life often is for a child who is forced to deal with situations such as those Connor is placed in. So much is left unsaid, and in those moments we see Connor and the people around him more clearly than dialogue could ever allow. And those moments of silence are allowed to breathe in a way most films don’t allow. There is no overwhelming soundtrack trying to fill those moments with pop songs, just simple orchestrations and muted sounds that let the fullness of the emotional response to the action exist without interruption.
A special mention, of course, needs to be made of the acting skills of Lewis MacDougall who plays Connor. Placing a child alongside such magnificent actors as Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver, and having them not only hold their ground, but blow them out of the water, is brilliant. There is a rawness and vulnerability to MacDougall’s performance, and more than once I cried simply as a reaction to the change in his eyes alone.
Liam Neeson plays his part as the Monster brilliantly, his voice lending itself perfectly to the storytelling and wisdom of the Monster. My only concern about the Monster is that people will see the Monster and won’t be able to unsee its physical similarities to Groot (of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). I will say though that the design work and animation is far more intricately detailed than that of Marvel’s Groot, and I think that may help distance the two from each other in the audience’s mind.
I was incredibly lucky to be invited by Walker Books and Entertainment One to see a special press screening of A MONSTER CALLS in a small theatre setting. The intimacy of the space made the film even more affecting and of the fifteen or so other people there, there was not a dry eye in the house when the film ended. Every grown man in that room wept more than once, and when the film ended, everyone sat there for a moment in stunned silence, hit rather forcefully by the emotion and power of the film. It was incredible to see this film garner such a reaction.
I highly recommend that everyone see A MONSTER CALLS on the big screen – a film as powerful as this deserves that. More than that, if you can see this film in a small cinema, you should, if only to feel the intimacy of this film more intensely. This is a film that will never leave you, and I can’t imagine a film more perfectly depicting the loneliness and pain of childhood loss than this.
A MONSTER CALLS is released in cinemas 27 July 2017.
Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia and Entertainment One for inviting me to see a special press screening of A MONSTER CALLS.
Please note: I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
© Hayley New 2017