With A Monster Calls, director J. A. Bayona had the difficult task of adapting Patrick Ness’ incredible novel into film. Thankfully, his talented direction and faith in the story has resulted in an extremely accurate and effective adaptation that delivers the same heart as the book even if it fails to transcend its source material; the visual medium of film adding little to a primarily character driven tale.
A Monster Calls is first and foremost a powerful tale about coming to terms with loss; using elements of fantasy to help both the young protagonist and us the audience relate to and understand the truth behind what it means to lose someone you love. Any film that deals with these themes would of course be emotional but it’s a merit to the strength of our small cast of characters that there wasn’t a dry eye around me by the time the credits rolled. The translation of the beautiful novel illustrations into live action is mixed; while the monsters tales are stunningly created in water colour style animation, the monster itself is incredibly noticeable with weak visual effects – thankfully Liam Neesons incredible performance makes up for this to create a still compelling character. Across the board, Bayona pulls strong performances from an already talented cast with Felicity Jones and the young Lewis MacDougall working at an Oscar-worthy level. It’s especially nice to see Toby Kebbell, an incredible actor with a bad casting agent, finally done justice in a good movie.
With the plot sticking so accurately to the novel, it is up to the visuals to truly differentiate and make the film stand out as necessary viewing. Unfortunately, the film fails to surpass the beautiful illustrations of the novel and the simple use of imagination that comes with the literary medium. Perhaps in an animation or with more stylised cinematography the film could have offered something new but as it is the visuals serve only to tell the story and have no personality of their own. Perhaps I am being greedy here but, having read the novel many times, I just didn’t feel I gained much from seeing the same story on the big screen.
There really isn’t much more to say. Bayona has made a successful adaptation that will give audiences an exciting and emotional time. You won’t waste your money but, and its rare I say this, A Monster Calls works better in paperback than on celluloid.