Scoop Publisher David Hogan and Arts Editor Jen Bowden give their – very different – views on J.A. Bayona’s dark tale of a boy and his monster.
What’s it about?
13-year-old Conor O’Malley is being bullied at school and his single mum is terminally ill with cancer. One night, just after midnight, a monster appears in his back garden. It comes again and again at the same time every night, taking the shape of an enormous tree that tells him three stories. In return Conor must tell his own story, and it must be the truth. But as his mum’s illness gets worse and life becomes more difficult, finding the courage to tell the truth becomes harder and harder.
I went with the highest expectations and was a little disappointed. I thought the concept was amazing, as was the acting and the cinematography, but from an entertainment perspective, it just wasn’t for me.
I wasn’t sure who it was aimed at; I took along my 11-year-old daughter and, like me, she thought it was amazing but terribly sad, a bit drawn out and had very little light relief. For adults the themes of good, evil and morality seemed over-simplified, but for kids, it’s a difficult concept to get your head around.
A Monster Calls explored the idea of everyone having good and evil within them, the challenges of making morally difficult decisions and the internal conflict that comes with these decisions – all good messages. But it still felt disjointed and the climatic ‘truth’ didn’t live up to expectation.
In all, it was an amazing big screen experience, but not something I would return to.
One of the big draws for me was the smart decision of having Patrick Ness (the author of the original novel) write the screenplay. The story carries all the raw, emotional authenticity of the book and doesn’t shy away from the upsetting reality of what Conor is going through.
Lewis MacDougall’s performance as the angry, guilt-ridden Conor drives the film and makes truly compelling viewing. I found it visually stunning, bringing to life both the dark, nightmarish world of the monster and the grim reality of the real world.
It’s by no means light-hearted. Those looking for an uplifting kid’s film should be warned they’re in for a bumpy ride, but the closing message of acceptance – of the truth and of reality – is a necessary one and makes the emotional intensity worthwhile.
It’s a film that will leave you heartbroken, but also with an understanding that things don’t always work out the way you want them to.
A Monster Calls is on general release now.