VentSpleen checks under LFF's proverbial bed and discovers A Monster Calls...
"The Monster showed up just after midnight, as monsters do"
So begins both Patrick Ness's screenplay and the self penned novel it is based on. A Monster Calls pulls no punches and, if you are looking for cinema that connects with the audience, then look no further. Any film that opens with a sequence that features an entire parish church and graveyard falling into a huge sink hole is jaw dropping in its sheer audacity of scale. Add to this scene a young boy desperately holding on to the fingers of his mother before losing his grip and you have a film that is very much wearing its heart on its celluloid covered sleeve. As the watercolour swirling titles roll, you are literally left feeling as if you are drowning in the sheer painful beauty of this film and it doesn't stop or let up for a moment.
A Monster Calls tells the story of Conor, who seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother's terminal illness. It is an incredibly simple premise but is told in such a way that you are forced to live every heart wrenching second of Conor's journey. The monster of the title is brought to life by the skills of the team behind Pan's Labyrinth and the iconic images portrayed are truly not for the younger audience. Liam Neeson is on form here as he voices the tree monster with the right amount of tone and depth considering the monster is no mere sapling. The monster tells Conor three tales and then demands that Conor reveals his truth, the dark reality, behind his nightmare. The deeply sad track of Mum's illness is brought to moving life by an award-deserving performance from Felicity Jones. Jones is no stranger to emotional resonance as she portrayed Jane Hawking so memorably in 2014's Theory of Everything. It feels like everyone but Conor realises his mum is not going to triumph over the cancer that is eating away at her and this adds to the sadness that, at times, threatens to overwhelm the audience. It is the clever insertion of the Tree Monster's tales that prevent the film from over balancing into unbearable loss and sadness. The tales are brought to striking and beautiful life by an astounding use of animated watercolour and more traditional animation. The watercolour imagery moves and swirls around the drawn characters and literally forms around them. It is one of the most effective uses of live performance and animation I have ever seen. The third tale is delivered in real time and marks a shift into the final act for the film.
A Monster Calls is a tiring and difficult film to watch as there is so much to empathise and emotionally connect with. Sadly, we have all been touched by the death of a loved one and, as children, know or have experienced bullying. To have both happening to you at the same time and feeding off each other is horrendous and leads to the disconnect that Conor imposes on himself. Lewis MacDougall is wonderful as Conor and his performance should surely tip him for any number of awards. Portraying the conflicting and powerful feelings provoked by death and grief is no easy task and at moments the tenderness he brings to screen is an experience I shall never forget. Sigourney Weaver is a Grandmother with emotions locked deep away and trying to hold a family together that is being torn apart. Weaver plays the elderly matriarch with such an air of realism she could have been channelling my late grandma. One of the films most memorable lines is delivered by Conor's Dad. Estranged from Conor's mum and now living in America, he comments in reply to Conor's statement about not "getting his happy ever after" that "I'd settle for a messy ever after". This simple statement is what shines at the heart of A Monster Calls that, despite what is often thought, life is not fair and things are never as black and white as we wish to believe. In a society where often views and opinions are polarised into extreme there has never been a more relevant time for these messages to be so powerfully communicated.
I can hardly complain about a film that so effectively emotionally connects when it has been my contention that this is the very reason it exists. A Monster Calls is a work of cinematic genius which left me walking through the train station with tears streaming down my cheeks.
Images - LFF
Follow VentSpleen on Twitter @VentSpleenUK