Thanks to the consistently excellent (but, thanks to social media, never that much of a surprise!) offerings of ODEON’s semi-regular Screen Unseen preview event, I was able to catch a showing of J. A. Bayona’s latest feature A Monster Calls a few weeks ahead of its UK release date of January 1st.
Other than knowing that the go-to-action man Liam Neeson was voicing a scary looking tree, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had really rather enjoyed Bayona’s last film, the tear-inducing The Impossible, so I had relatively high hopes. What I found with this unorthodox coming-of-age fantasy caused the tears to start a-coming as I was left with one overriding wish for the future: that a Yew Tree that with the voice of Liam Neeson would come to me at night to teach me valuable life lessons too.
As well as the Neeson-factor, A Monster Calls is visually stunning. So whilst wiping away the tears, at least I was comforted by the fact I could marvel at the special effects, of which during its dream sequences were rather reminiscent of The Tale of the Three Brothers from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. Yet what really sucker-punched me in the crown jewels was how the flick dealt with its tough-talking message. We’ve all watched these coming-of-age flicks – some good, many cheesy – yet AMCs manages to bypass the latter issue with ease.
At its heart, the film’s about a young lad, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) – bullied at school, socially awkward and having to cope with his cancer-stricken mother (played by Felicity Jones) – going through a rubbish time. It’s got tear-jerker written all over it, and there are some weep-tastic moments that’ll cut your very soul into little pieces. However, the film’s strength is how it deals with grief, cleverly mixing (and manipulating) reality with fantasy to create a universe where this boy – in his own unique, but understandable way – can get his head around the crap that he’s having to deal with.
A slow-starter it may be, but by the end A Monster Calls is undeniably a beauty, both inside and out. It’ll be an impressive, but weepie, beginning to 2017 for many.