Tag Archives: monster

Review – A Monster Calls (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • JA Bayona – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Untitled Jurassic World Sequel

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Fernando Velázquez – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Mama, Crimson Peak, The Invisible Guest

In medieval and early modern times a series of fairy tales came to the fore in European folklore. Based on true or quasi-mythical events, fantastical stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Mermaid taught children simple, moral lessons that could be adapted to all eras to help them deal with their problems. JA Boyena’s brilliant, A Monster Calls has a similar moral to its tale.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

The film is based on the book by Patrick Ness, which itself was inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The movie centres round lonely, 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness and he is being bullied at school. With so much going on in his life, Conor needs to find an outlet. One night, while at drawing at his desk, the old yew tree near his house comes alive (voiced by Liam Neeson) and advises him on how to deal with his problems.

A Monster Calls is a wonderful, yet heart-breaking fantasy drama. It is a folktale in all but name, since it handles very real issues and enables our protagonist to confront the unfairness of his situation in a constructive and tender way. Also, narratively, the movie links every element of the story together. By the end, viewers understand why Conor sees this particular monster, why the Monster has its voice, and the significance of the Monster’s advice, among others. This makes A Monster Calls all the more moving to watch.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

The movie is delivered with great sensitivity. JA Bayona’s directing is top class and the fantasy parts of the film are always appropriate and never over the top. The script is down to earth and delivered with the right amount of anger, compassion, and bluntness, depending upon the scene. The cast must be commended for this; especially, young Lewis MacDougall. He spends much time on screen alone (or with a CGI monster) and he manages to hold the audience’s attention due to the strength of his acting. This is no easy feat (one need only watch Jayden Smith’s awful performance in After Earth to realise how talented an actor must be to keep viewers interested when he/she is alone on screen). If he continues to perform so well in the future, MacDougall will be a star.

But MacDougall is not the only one who shines. Felicity Jones gives a genuine and heart-felt performance, putting a good spin on her diagnosis for her son despite looking worryingly worse as the film progresses. Similarly, Sigourney Weaver performs splendidly as a grandmother locked in a bygone era, trying to come to terms with losing her daughter and having to look after her grandson. Toby Kebbell, too, does a good job as a man who is not the sharpest pencil in the packet academically, but has emotional intelligence and is trying to do his best for Conor, in spite of his character’s impossible predicament.

If the circumstances aren’t enough to touch people, Fernando Velázquez’s music will do enough to induce lumps in viewers’ throats. His score is subtle and tugs at the heart, thereby giving an added dimension to the pain that our protagonists are suffering, particularly Conor.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnie's terminator, urging it to save his mother.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, urging the Monster to save his mother.

Nevertheless, what is it that Conor is actually suffering from? If A Monster Calls has a flaw, it is that the film vocalises Conor’s pain. This comes across as tell-heavy and unnecessary. Just as the timeless fairy tales did not spell out the moral message of their stories, the movie would have been better served if it would have let audiences infer its message. Yet, this is nip-picking as the film should be enjoyed for the wonder that it is.

All-in-all, A Monster Calls is a fabulous, tear-jerking movie. It has a splendid plot, a cast that fulfil their roles superbly, and it finely blends reality and fantasy. What’s more, A Monster Calls has a strong moral message. This is what makes it a twenty-first century fairy tale, comparable to the classic folklore stories. The film offers children a coping mechanism for when they are confronted with a horrible reality.

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Review – The Babadook (15) [2014]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  •  Jennifer Kent – Monster

Cast:

  • Essie Davis – The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions, Australia, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Assassin’s Creed
  • Noah Wiseman – The Gift
  • Tim Purcell
  • Daniel Henshall – The Snowtown Murders, Not Suitable For Children, These Final Hours, Fell
  • Benjamin Winspear – The Last Goodbye, Breeding In Captivity
  • Hayley McElhinney
  • Barbara West

Music Composer:

  •  Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Dead Europe, Macbeth

In recent years, the ineptitude of the horror genre has been documented on this blog. The Woman In Black, The Possession and Mama did not induce enough fear into viewers and illustrated, to the point of a rule, that the horror genre has become a joke. Nevertheless, Jennifer Kent’s latest film The Babadook wonderfully proves otherwise and shows that the horror genre still has the power to terrify viewers.

Amelia (Essie Davis) with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), looking under the bed to make sure that no monsters are there.

Amelia (Essie Davis) with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), looking under the bed to make sure that no monsters are there.

  The Babadook is a low-budget Australian movie. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a nurse/carer in an old people’s home by day and a single mother the rest of the time. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a difficult child who believes to the point of obsession that he sees a monster (the Babadook) in the closet. He creates improvised weapons to deal with the monster when the correct moment arises. At first, Amelia believes that Samuel’s unusually obsessive behaviour is not an in issue. But soon she realises, to her consternation, that a sinister presence might be lurking in the house…

The Babadook is a brilliant horror film that is sincerely scary. At its core, the movie is about a supernatural being haunting a house in need of renovation. But, amazingly, the movie does not fall into the current horror genre trope of quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG to quicken one’s heart rate. Instead, in a similar vein to The Shining and We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Babadook messes with one’s instincts and emotions in a very natural and unsettling way.

Amelia reading Sam a book to help him go to sleep. Only, without realising it, she is reading to him the poetry book written by the Babadook.

Amelia reading Sam a book to help him go to sleep. Only, without realising it, she is reading to him the poetry book written by the Babadook.

The director, Jennifer Kent, does this by four means: one, through the use of discomforting poetry; two, through the use of ethereal sounds like thud, dook and the crawl of insects to build tension; three, by creating a situation whereby a mother is as fearful for her child as she is fearful of her child (and his disturbing behaviour); and, four, by inflection by making both the mother and the son, in different ways, look more and more like the Babadook as the film goes on. All four of these factors are executed exceptionally well and ensure that one feels a knot gradually tightening in their stomachs.

Undoubtedly, one would not be able to feel this way if the two lead actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, had not put in such strong performances. Yet, at the same time, both actors have been privileged with richly complex, three-dimensional characters. For this, one must applaud Jennifer Kent for writing such believable characters and a brilliantly written script in general.

A page from the Babadook's actual book. The poetry is as fantastic as it is unsettling.

A page from the Babadook’s actual book. The poetry is as fantastic as it is unsettling.

Nevertheless, the script (sadly) does not hold out for the whole of The Babadook’s 94 minutes. Arguably, the climactic scene near the end of the movie veers away from the direction that the film had seemed to be going down for more than three quarters of the film. This is a shame as the scenes near the end feel a little jarring and out of sync with the rest of the movie. In addition, the special effects look amateurish at times, which may undermine the scare element of the film. However, one should not put too much stress on these flaws because that would be to take away what is a delightfully accomplished horror film.

Over-all, The Babadook is a superb and genuinely scary horror movie. As a whole, the film is well-written, superbly acted, and deeply unsettling in a very normal way despite the supernatural element within the film. One might nitpick and say that the special effects are not great. Yet, at a time when the horror genre has become a laughing stock, Jennifer Kent demonstrates with The Babadook that there is more to the horror genre than the base (and boring) denominator of quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG, and that horror films still have the potential to scare people.

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