- Category: Volume 88 (Fall 2016 - Spring 2017)
- Published: 08 February 2017
- Written by STEPHANIE YOUNG | CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Let’s just get right down to it. A Monster Calls, directed by J. A. Bayona, was the most under-looked, under-discussed hidden gem of the year. It is the one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching films that has been released in the last decade. Yes, this is a fairly heavy statement, but to me, there is nothing about this film that was less than absolutely stunning. From the production, acting, and animation, to the genuine emotions it evokes from audiences all across the nation, A Monster Calls is the film you may never have heard of, but is certainly one that you should watch immediately. Without a doubt in my mind, it is going to hold a prime position in the coming of age genre for years to come.
A Monster Calls is not just a coming of age story. There are surprising themes that are touched on – possibly due to the dark and mature subject matter that it presents to a younger audience. It follows young Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) as he must come to terms with his mother’s progressing illness. A monster visits him one night and informs him that he has three stories to share. However, once he is finished with his stories, O’Malley must tell the monster one of his own stories.
It is difficult to convey the depths of which this film was able to display in regards to topics of grief, loss, love, and truth. At first glance, it is targeted for younger children, but I can tell you A Monster Calls will hit adults even harder. When the screen goes black and the credits start to roll, audiences will be taken back by this masterpiece, never imagining the impact it will likely leave on them.
While a majority of A Monster Calls is live action film with the use of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) for the monster, it also incorporates animation to present the stories the monster shares with Connor. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous and the way the film tells the primary story and the sub-stories using two different mediums makes the audience feel as if they are a child again, which can conjure up their own visions to go along with the monster’s narrations of each story. The film did an excellent job embodying each lesson the story presented to Connor while visually representing the sometimes disturbing realities through its use of watercolors and artistic drawings. The animation did not take the audience out of the story; it enhanced the understanding of Connor’s imagination and internal struggles.
In a world where the Oscars are unfortunately highly political in choosing what is nominated for its award ceremony, it is disappointing that MacDougall did not receive an Oscar nomination for his performance. As a child actor, the incredible talent he showed on screen is one that is rarely seen by actors of his age, let alone of actors in general; he handled the role with poise and maturity. This film in particular rides on the main character of Connor, so needless to say his role would have been the make-or-break of the film. Luckily, MacDougall brought everything he possibly could to this character and every minute of it paid off.
After watching it the first time one can begin to see how smart it is and how it utilizes its own story elements and morals and applies them to various parts of the film. For example, one aspect of the film focuses on the idea that humans are complex creatures. As a result, the presentation of a number of the characters show this idea, but not in a painfully obvious way. The subtle manner in which Connor’s father and grandmother are portrayed confirms this idea by breaking away from the conventions associated with each position they held. Connor’s father, who was revealed to have divorced Connor’s mother in the beginning of the film, is not shown as a typical absent father. Instead, he is one of the most lovable and genuine characters. The way the film gives each character multiple layers confirms its own ideas it presents to the audience and brings them to life.
With all that said, A Monster Calls simply reminds me why I love film in general. Rarely does a film affect me on so many levels where it causes me to think about it for an extended period of time afterwards. It cannot be stressed enough the amount of heart this film possesses. It evokes intense emotion from the audience but it is not done in a forced manner. It remains true and presents its themes in a unique storytelling method, which although would seem like it is for a child, resonates with adults as well. The concept as to why the monster visits Connor and the personal journey he guides Connor down can only be fully understood and felt by experiencing this film for oneself. It continues to stick with me and remains on my personal list as one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking film that everyone should see. Be prepared because once you embark on this journey with Connor, it will stick with you.