The big screen adaptation of A Monster Calls from Class writer Patrick Ness is out today on DVD and Blu-Ray. Here’s why it’s a tale that deserves your attention…
A Monster Calls is a complicated beast, in more ways than one. Particularly this movie version, as it’s technically an adaptation of an adaptation. The story is perhaps Patrick Ness’ best known work, released as a novel in May 2011. However, it actually began life under the pen of Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away before she could finish writing it. Ness (having completed his epic Chaos Walking trilogy) took it upon himself to pick up where she left off. Needless to say, it was a success. A few years later, he would re-write it again, this time in the form of a film script. But whether it’s on the page or on the screen, one thing undoubtedly remains consistent: A Monster Calls is a story worth experiencing.
Be warned though: one thing you absolutely should not do is underestimate this film. On the surface, it might look like just another run-of-the-mill kids movie. Yes, there are fantasy elements, and yes, the Monster does look a lot like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. But at its heart, A Monster Calls is very, very different: it’s a real-life drama grounded in real-life tragedy. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it’s terrifying. However, unlike Class, this is actually something that arguably is appropriate for children of a certain age to watch. Or, at least, it’s definitely the kind of film that they should be watching.
For, you see, A Monster Calls is a story about learning to deal with grief. Faced with the worst that life can throw at you, it’s a tale that says: sometimes, it’s okay to be upset.
Stories are Wild Creatures
For anyone that’s read the original book, one thing is instantly clear: A Monster Calls is incredibly faithful to its source material. That’s perhaps unsurprising, as Ness wrote both the novel and the screenplay (a decision he made out of ownership and, in the best possible sense, “spite”). But, compared to some other book-to-film adaptations, this one gets through relatively unscathed. There are a few subtle differences to make the story work better on the screen, but they’re just that: subtle. It’s almost beat-for-beat a retelling of the book, and all the better for it. It’s not padded out with needless filler and it rattles along at a pitch-perfect pace. Indeed, its 1 hour 45 minute run-time is rather refreshing in this era of over-bloated blockbusters. In fact, you could probably get through the book in the same amount of time, making it even more of a one-to-one interpretation.
Visually, too, it’s surprisingly similar to the original work. The novel was beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay, whose drawings have clearly inspired the designs also seen in the film. Whether it’s the incredible CGI Monster or the phenomenally animated ‘tales’, it’s a feast for the eyes from start to finish. Director J. A. Bayona has done a fantastic job of bringing this world to life, every single shot carefully chosen and brimming with cinematic triumph. Art plays a pivotal role in the narrative, so it’s only fitting that the film itself should be a work of art too. Even if you don’t watch it for the story, watch it for the visuals. Very few movies are as stunning as this.
Speak the Truth
But, watch it for the story you should, as that’s where A Monster Calls truly shines. Young Conor O’Malley is living an unenviable life. His mother is terminally ill, he’s being bullied at school, and he is facing the prospect of having to move in with his grandmother. Worst of all, he is having nightmares – or rather, one nightmare. The same one, over and over again, constantly haunting his every sleep. Then, just after midnight, as the clock strikes 12:07, a monster calls. This tree-like being will tell Conor three stories, after which Conor must tell him a fourth. And it must be the truth…
The film boasts a star-studded cast filled with real Hollywood A-listers. Felicity Jones (Rogue One) plays Conor’s mum Lizzie and gives a powerful performance, especially as the film draws to its end. Sigourney Weaver (Alien) plays Conor’s grandmother, a complex character who is both strict yet sympathetic. The Monster itself is none other than Liam Neeson, lending a vocal gravitas that absolutely suits the creature. But it’s 14 year old Lewis MacDougall, in one of his first major roles, that outshines them all as Conor. Not only does he carry the weight of his character, he carries the weight of the film. Mark our words, he’s one to watch.
It helps that the actors have such good material to work with. The writing is top notch with hard-hitting lines and poignant scenes that will leave you reaching for your handkerchiefs. Patrick Ness’ script is just as tight as his original novel. Possibly more so, it’s hard to say. But that consistency in quality is only a good thing. It means that, whichever way you experience A Monster Calls, it doesn’t matter. Both are equally good, and both as equally worth your time.
I Wish I Had a Hundred Years
It’s fair to say then that A Monster Calls is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s a magnum opus of writing, acting, and direction – every department fires on all cylinders. The one thing it is perhaps not, though, is like Class. This is primarily worth noting for those who discovered Patrick Ness through the Doctor Who spin-off and are keen to sample his other work. Tonally and thematically, A Monster Calls definitely falls in the same ball park. But if you’re expecting intergalactic wars, teenage angst, or even Weeping Angels, you might find this a little jarring. If that’s the case, you’d probably be better of checking out Ness’ Chaos Walking books (which also come highly recommended).
What we have here instead is perhaps best described as Patrick Ness’ answer to Heaven Sent. Through the eyes of its young hero, it tackles inevitable issues that affect even the strongest among us. It’s deep, it’s poetic – and you’d need to have a heart of stone to make it to the end without shedding a few tears. It’s reality told through fantasy, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better crafted tale than this.
The DVD and Blu-Ray also include a selection of bonus features, from deleted scenes and cast/crew interviews to an audio commentary from Ness himself. They’re engaging (if not essential) viewing, offering an entertaining insight into the making of the movie. There are even a few nuggets of unexpected trivia to unearth for those who are keenly interested.