Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
United Kingdom/Spain/USA, 2016. Participant, River Road Entertainment, A Monster Calls, Apaches Entertainment, Películas la Trini. Screenplay by Patrick Ness, based on his novel from an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Cinematography by Oscar Faura. Produced by Belen Atienza. Music by Fernando Velazquez. Production Design by Eugenio Caballero. Costume Design by Steven Noble. Film Editing by Jaume Marti, Bernat Vilaplana.
Connor (Lewis MacDougall) lives with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones) in their quiet English village, bullied at school for being a daydreamer while constantly stressed about his mother’s prognosis not looking good. Things get bad enough that his unsympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) shows up to take care of them both, thus forcing him to retreat further into a sorrow that inspires a mythical creature to appear at his side: a large monster created from the yew tree beyond his window comes to life, voiced by Liam Neeson, and tells him that he will narrate three fairy tales to Connor and that the young man will be pressed upon to provide the fourth.
The tales are ones that go beyond the simpler morality that children are usually taught, good and evil are not stratified easily in various characters but are a conflict that every person carries within them, and Connor is told that his deepest secret will be the basis of the one he is to provide. Meanwhile, in his real, waking life, he begins to act out in increasingly violent ways, trashing his grandmother’s house while forced to stay with her, and giving his school bully a vengeful acting out that he has held in for too long.
The varying elements fit together awkwardly in J.A. Bayona’s adaptation of the novel by Patrick Ness, the right balance between reality and the supernatural isn’t achieved and one feels that in trying not to be predictable, the narrative gets a bit out of control. Thankfully, it never reaches the point of being an actual mess, the family drama at the centre of the story is very moving and the animation sequences, which represent the film at its best, are stunning in their visual command, but Weaver is distressingly bad at pulling off her Britishness and her unconvincing accent bogs down her scenes. It’s a good film for young people to see, particularly if they are going through similar troubles at home, as the one target this film hits beautifully is showing an understanding for the internal conflict that causes so much pain when young people are dealing with loss.
European Film Award: Best European Sound Designer
Toronto International Film Festival: 2016