A Monster Calls – Review by Jez Gibson

This is a film that you may well have overlooked, quickly relegated in most multiplexes  – a monstrous mistake. Seek this out while it gets a brief bump back at some screens as we enter awards season. 

A boy befriends a fantastical tree as he comes to terms with the reality of his mum being terminally ill.

This looks like a British “kitchen sink” Ken Loach style drama, mashed up with a weird CGI monster tree thing. I distinctly remember seeing the trailer for the first time. My instant reaction was this looked odd. I couldn’t quite “get” what sort of film this was and felt no connection or draw to see the film whatsoever.

Forget the trailer or any pre-conceptions you may have about this film. I was wrong in my initial judgment. This is a superb film that I seriously recommend seeing.

Felicity Jones has been busy making a few films recently – a lot of you might have seen Rogue One. Sigourney Weaver is playing a very different role in this film where there are no Aliens (we get a monster instead). Liam Neeson is the voice of the magnanimous tree with a very particular set of skills. Lastly and most importantly there’s the exceptional young Scottish actor Lewis Macdougall, last seem in the generally panned “Pan”.

Miss Jones is a versatile actress that we didn’t get to see the true potential of in Rogue One. Most films before the latest Star Wars instalment showcase her abundant talents that got her that part in the first place. Seeing her in a film like this lets her stretch her legs again. Both Felicity and Alicia Vikander appear to be the go to actresses right now, both getting a lot of work. Similarly Alicia has gone from the critically acclaimed indie favourite Ex-Machina and The Danish Girl, to a blockbuster like the last Jason Bourne film.

Our tree and the CGI that come with it feel incongruent in theory with the story being told, but once you get into the film, this really works.

The story is further brought to life with some stunning pieces of animation woven into the narrative. Different styles are used for different tales, with each one firing our childlike imagination. Again this makes this film unique in how it bridges some very adult situations and sentiment but set within a child’s story. I am not familiar with the original book, but understand that it was revered in those circles too.

Our adventurous Spanish director, J.A. Bayona, previously made The Impossible and The Orphanage. He is an expert in probing into troubled human emotion, while getting mature and valuable contributions out of the young actors and their characters experience. Although the film is ultimately about the sadness and trauma of those finding their way through the possibility of losing a loved one, you will feel magical and liberating tears of joy along the way. It is an important film to see for children of a certain age as well as adults to experience, as it helps the audience process their own potential memories, experiences and emotions.

While the majority of multiplexes are still showing Rogue One, and while the critics are all still talking about LA LA Land, a misunderstood and misrepresented monster is still calling you.

10/10 – Jez Gibson

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