“A Monster Calls” is a unique look at coping with grief

When you mix genres and filmmaking styles, you always run the risk of things not gelling together properly. This week, director J.A. Bayona avoided that with his top notch new movie A Monster Calls. Out previously for its Oscar qualifying run on Christmas weekend before a general release in a few days, the film seeks to be an unusual Academy Award player. It has an uphill battle, but there’s always the possibility of a surprise. This is the sort of thing that probably will be almost shut out, precursor wise, but you need to keep in the back of your head for nomination morning. The more voters who see and are affected by it, the better a chance it has to shock on the big day.

The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness (based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd). It centers on a young boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall) who is struggling with the terminal illness that has struck his mother (Felicity Jones). At odds with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), Conor begins being visited by a monster (voice of Liam Neeson) each night. The monster says he will tell him three stories, after which Conor must tell him one. Of course, the subject will involve coping with grief, as you might expect. Bayona directs the adaptation that Ness himself wrote. Also in the cast is Toby Kebbell, along with Geraldine Chaplin, James Melville, Ben Moor, and others. Cinematography is by Oscar Faura, while Fernando Velázquez contributes the score.

Even though I’m not quite as enraptured by the movie as most, I do think it’s a well made and emotional exercise. The visual effects are really interesting, showing you a different sort of look than you’d probably be expecting from the flick. Young MacDougall also impresses, having to basically carry the entire picture on his back. The rest of the cast are decidedly supporting players, so it’s all up to him. He does an admirable job, that’s for sure. There were a ton of strong youth performances in 2016, with his being right there with the rest of them. A Monster Calls is solid across the board, but it excels with him and its look.

Awards wise, the ship seems to have sailed on A Monster Calls (not qualifying for the Best Visual Effects bakeoff, for example), but a campaign is in play. Best Picture, Best Director (for Bayona), Best Actor (for McDougall), Best Supporting Actress (for Jones and Weaver), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Ness), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing are on the table. I’m not sure any of them will happen, but there’s a chance at least. This film likely will get shut out, but it won’t be for a lack of quality. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Basically, this weekend brings something different in A Monster Calls. While early January is mostly marked by being a studio dumping ground, things like this expanding into wide release offer an oasis of sorts. If you like your fantasy mixed with a dose of reality, or vice versa, this could be for you. It didn’t blow me away, but I personally know of multiple voters who cried watching it. You can’t discount that. More likely than not, the film will be shut out in terms of Academy Award nominations, but that’s not a guarantee. For now, just take the opportunity to see it for yourself…

Be sure to check out A Monster Calls, in theaters now for its qualifying run and out everywhere on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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