Whether or not this film is going to work on you or not depends on your reaction to one moment. That in which the monster calls. Beacuse the first time it does so, it’s rough. Like real rough. The film packs a lot into it’s first fifteen minutes, it deftly creates a world, fleshes out it’s characters. Director J. A. Bayona excels in plucking his themes out of the ether and he has a lot to work with in Patrick Ness’ script based upon his own novel produced in collaboration with Siobhan Dowd. As a result the firs ten or so minutes fly by.
Then the monster calls. And it keeps going. I don’t want to get all Armond White here, talking bout awe and the nature of the sublime in a situation that don’t warrent it but, and I’ll say here I haven’t read the book, there’s nothing. The film treats this occurance in the same manner it presents reality, and I get that it’s a deliberate choice but I ain’t sure myself of how good it works. Useful to mention here that the story is firmly planting itself in the storytelling tradition of fairytale and so it gets licence. There ain’t no lying about how abrupt I found the scene, and it shook me out of the film for a good long while.
God dammit, my writing is apologising for my own opinions.
It’s a handsome film, but the cinematographer Óscar Faura and the entirity of the production design team exercise such restraint in their creation of this world. The drabness and blandness and shittyness of the sets is proper amazing, there’s this crappy restaurant they go to at one point which is just so perfectly observed. Props to the location scouts too who managed to find the best cuts of decaying middle England. There’s animated bits too, not just the CGI but some gorgeous sequences that just drip from the screen. Blending 2D and 3D animation together like something you feel the need to mention despite all that needs saying is that it looks fucking good. Someone give this house a feature please.
And all that and I think that, despite itself, it don’t quite pull together. I ain’t sure why, the performances are fine enough. None of them totally knock it outta the park; Felicity Jones comes the closest, Sigourney Weaver is straddled with an accent that seems two steps ahead of her and Toby Kebell plays a crap dad in a way which I can’t decide is too similar or dissimilar from my own. The story stays tight, pulls its weight and evens gets me a little weepy at the end. But there’s something.
I aint sure. It probably deserves a rewatch. Or maybe it’s just okay and I’m overthinking it. A couple of days after watching it I revisited Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are to try and figure out where that one goes so right compared to this. I’m honestly not sure. Both are complicated beasts, maybe I just need more time to solve this one.
Boy do I dislike being unsure of my opinions, certainly at least when I’m writing.