A troubled young boy meets an ancient creature with three stories to tell…
A Monster Calls was born as an idea in the mind of writer Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away before committing more than an outline to paper. Patrick Ness took up the thread and conjured up a magical novel with some important help from artist Jim Kay.
Five years on, the book has been adapted for cinema, with a screenplay by Ness and direction by Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible). And it’s quite the triumph.
It helps of course that the novel was already an incredibly evocative experience - with Ness’ rather taut and spare style nestled next to Kay’s brooding illustrations filled with endless shadows and looming forms.
Bayona uses this inspiration to conjure up some visually stunning sequences, including the horrorscapes of young Conor’s (Lewis MacDougall) mind. And of course there’s the Monster - given real weight and heft in every scene, his branches bristling with power, aided by voicework by Liam Neeson.
That visual splendour is matched by the dramatic stakes thanks to several good performances. MacDougall is the standout with a tough role as a loner and he gets able support from Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell and Sigourney Weaver - struggling slightly with the English accent.
There are strong themes here, including illness and loss and pain, and the story pulls no punches in showing the isolation global grief can bring. It’s also full of subtle details, with some of my favorite scenes giving us a glimpse at how the other characters are desperately trying to hold themselves together.
It’s a visually and emotionally spectacle, and one that reaches quite the crescendo. It’s less powerful if you’re familiar with the book, quite naturally, and I some of the changes weren’t necessarily for the better but this remains strong stuff right to the final moment.
A Monster Calls is a tremendously well-made film which takes inspiration from the book and builds upon it to create a mature fantasy-drama which is guaranteed to fire your imagination and push those emotional buttons.