If you see one film in 2016, it will probably be La La Land, judging by the popularity it will hopefully garner from winning every award going. However, other worthy films of your consideration await you at the moment. Do not miss A Monster Calls, there is quite simply nothing else like it.
A boy, (okay yes, films have had boys before), Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a quiet, disinterested and unattached young individual who is frequently bullied to the point of having a relationship with his bullies which reeks of consent. Meanwhile, his mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), has a terminal illness, (it’s never specified what it is, which is to the film’s advantage in some ways), and there is a fractious relationship between her and Grandma, (Sigourney Weaver), and Connor’s own status in the family is part of the friction, as he seems to be Lizzie’s carer. He knows that things are getting worse for the whole family, so a massive yew tree monster (Liam Neeson) visits him to tell him stories that pertain to improving his life.
What Patrick Ness captures with his story is that sense of not knowing what to do or how to effect a situation to any effect, and Connor’s guilt over his lack of ability to help his mum becomes a major theme, but not the only one. What is really interesting is how this Christmas Carol structure actually changes the lives of the characters throughout the film rather than waiting for a revelatory moment.
I will admit to not having read the book, but thankfully Patrick Ness wrote the screenplay and his own novel, so we can assume that the version of the story on screen more than accurately represents Ness’ story, and what is even more beautifully on display for us all is J. A. Bayona’s vision. The dreamy sequences where parables about the grey nature of the world are colourfully and delightfully animated. Think back to the stand-out animation sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 where Hermione recounts the tale of the brothers and the deathly hallows, and imagine if that wasn’t a subtle and calming cutaway piece but bombastically consuming scenes of the film.
It is a really strong start to the year if this is how we’re going to start it. Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver are seamless (to the point you won’t even recognise Weaver), but it is a shame A Monster Calls wasn’t in cinemas a tad earlier, because Lewis MacDougall deserves a breakthrough actor nomination for his work in this.
A film about illness, mental health, bullying, adulthood, childhood, and nature? Maybe it isn’t all of those things in equal measure or any of them at all, but it is something so powerful that two annoying teenagers who were loudly and obviously using their phones and throwing food around throughout most of the film reacted the same as the other 10 of us in my screening; with tears. I was weeping by the end, but with a sense, that I could take on the world better than I could before.