If you’re anything like myself, you were ecstatic when you discovered Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls was being adapted to a film. It was supposed to be released October 2016 — it wasn’t. Then it was supposed to be released December 2016 — it wasn’t, at least, not worldwide. Finally it came out in January of this year — but of course not at my local theater. Seriously. I waited so long to see this film! It was a painstakingly long time! After finally having viewed it, however, I can say it was worth the wait. If you’re sitting here and haven’t watched it yet, I recommend getting out there and doing so, because it is on DVD now, and it was certainly worth it.
“Stories are wild creatures,” the monster said. “When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
Thirteen-year-old Conor does not have a particularly easy life. His mum is sick while his dad lives in another country with his new family. At school, Conor is bullied and practically invisible to the rest of his classmates, while the teachers look upon him with sympathy and pity. Unfortunately, sleep is not a place Conor can escape to. When his mum begins her treatments, Conor begins to have a nightmare — the nightmare. As his mum’s illness worsens, the nightmare begins to occur more often, until he is haunted by it every night. Conor can’t take it anymore. That’s when he starts having another nightmare – a new nightmare – where a monster visits him, only this monster is a lot less scary than the one from the nightmare. But is it a nightmare? Is it even a dream at all?
What a fantastic group of people to star in a fantastic film. The lead actor is Lewis MacDougall playing Conor O’Malley. MacDougall is quite new to the acting world, having only starred in Pan before filming A Monster Calls. He was absolutely brilliant as Conor and if you think otherwise, you are so wrong. This kid has some raw talent; he was flawless! He captivated the character quite well and tugged on my heartstrings. His performance blew me away made me tear up. Absolutely brilliant. I cannot praise this kid enough. He’s literally 14 years old. Incredible.
It’s been a while since her alien ass-kicking days. Sigourney Weaver has strayed from her horror film roots and has starred in a ridiculous amount of films since then. This woman has still got it. She stars as Conor’s grandmother, Mrs. Clayton, in this film. I can’t quite remember if her character is British or not, but if so, Weaver’s accent isn’t that great. Other than that, she delivers a phenomenal performance, as always. I love this woman.
Felicity Jones plays Conor’s mom, Lizzy Clayton, who suffers from cancer. I don’t know what it is about this woman, but I find her absolutely stunning. She’s gorgeous! I love her. And she did a great job as Conor’s mom. She also drew a few tears from me in one of her hospital scenes. Though she isn’t in the film a whole lot (like her on-screen mother), her performance is lovely and she breaks my heart.
Ah, yes, and we can’t forget Liam Neeson! He plays the monster, of course. You do see his face once, in a photograph, as Conor’s grandfather. Other than that, though, you only hear his voice. I love Liam Neeson’s voice, I do, but as the monster, it was a little too gravelly for me. Sometimes I could barely understand him. As for the way he looked, it was okay. He looked more like a tree than I thought he would (like in the book’s illustrations). He was great, though. Liam Neeson is always great. I love the monster.
Warning: This section will discuss the film’s faithfulness to the novel and could contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, I would definitely suggest scrolling past. If you haven’t seen the film yet and you want absolutely no information on the events in the film, I would scroll past. Basically: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
As my favorite professor always says, we should not compare the book to the movie because they are separate entities and therefore we cannot base our opinions on fidelity; we can say it was a bad movie, but we cannot say it was a bad movie because it was different from the book. I wholeheartedly agree with her, but I am only human, therefore I still compare the two and still enjoy studying the differences between them.
As far as storylines go, this one stayed fairly true to the source text. Patrick Ness wrote the screenplay himself, so I knew it would be good. Everything moved along right on track and mirrored the book well. The differences were so minor, they aren’t even worth mentioning, to be honest.
What especially blew me away was how the first two tales were told. In the book, the monster tells Conor two tales, which play out almost completely in writing with only one or two of Kay’s illustrations accompanying the words. For the film, they animated the first two tales through watercolor. It was absolutely gorgeous. Watercolor figures spilled out across the screen while the monster narrated. The best part: the animations looked similar to Kay’s illustrations (only they were in color, of course). I loved it. I thought it was a great way to tell the stories.
I must talk about the end of the film though. The book ends with Conor clutching his mother as she takes her final breaths. This critical scene is also in the film, but after fading to black, there’s more: Conor’s grandmother gives Conor the key to his new room in her house. All of Conor’s things are there, and lying on the desk is an album full of his mother’s watercolor paintings. As Conor flips through, the random pictures suddenly start to seem familiar. Conor finds paintings of the first and second tale, and of the monster himself. I thought this was an intriguing way to end the story, implying that Conor’s mother was also visited by this monster when she was a girl (or perhaps older, as a woman?). I’m not sure if I liked this conclusion or not. It definitely uplifted the mood of the film, choosing not to simply end as Conor’s mother is dying. I’m not sure if this decision is good or bad. Any thoughts?
Book or Film?
Although the film was pretty incredibly, I’m gonna have to go with the book on this one. I loved the casting, I loved the cinematography, I loved the mood… but the book was more powerful for me. Ness’s words paired with Kay’s illustrations set a chilling, depressing mood that captivated my attention until the last page. It was an emotional experience that only happens once, and the book delivered that feeling harder than the film. It’s a fantastic film, though — almost 90% on Rotten Tomatoes! Though I waited what felt like an eternity, it was worth it.