The best supernatural horror films are those that use their genre elements – be they creepy ghosts or demonically-possessed objects – as dark allegories for experiences in the real world; it’s something of an exception to the rule nowadays, when a spooky movie aimed at younger audiences does as much, with something like Coraline being a good example in modern times. However, if done right, the upcoming children’s fantasy/horror novel adaptation A Monster Calls could be one of the most poignant additions to that sub-genre in recent memory (for both kids and adult moviegoers).
A Monster Calls is being directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who previously made the acclaimed cinematic ghost story The Orphanage – a film that is perhaps better at being emotionally unsettling than delivering jolts – in addition to the drama The Impossible, which offers an intimate look at the human side of the 2004 Indiana Ocean tsunami. Bayona’s latest project more closely resembles the former than latter movie, as its narrative blends together disturbing fantastical material with extremely sad realistic dramatic content.
Patrick Ness, who also penned the A Monster Calls movie script, wrote the original Carnegie and Greenaway Medal-winning novel, based on an idea conceived by human rights campaigner and author Siobhan Dowd (before she lost the battle to breast cancer). The story takes place in modern England, where 13-year old Conor is dealing with the impending death of his mother (who, like Dowd, has terminal cancer). Things begin to change for the lonely child, when he is visited late at night by a mysterious creature, who tells Conor a series of stories – in exchange, the young boy must tell the “monster” about his recurring nightmare.
The latest report from Deadline reveals that Liam Neeson is being courted for the role of the eponymous Monster; the actor is currently filming Taken 3, though his schedule may be open by the time A Monster Calls starts principal photography for a Fall 2016 release date. In addition, the film’s cast now includes Felicity Jones; a lead in such projects as the 2009 The Diary of Anne Frank mini-series, as well as the indie romantic drama Like Crazy, Jones’ star will continue to rise this year, when she appears in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (in a role that’s rumored to be Black Cat) followed by her turn in the Stephen Hawking biopic Theory of Everything in late 2014.
Neeson, as a human-like figure composed of sticks, leaves and mud, would presumably be doing glorified voice-work in A Monster Calls, combined with some performance-capture work perhaps – assuming the film doesn’t rely on good ol’ practical effects and makeup/costumes that is – should he sign on. His gruff voice would be an excellent fit for a mysterious creature of the night and he’s excelled in voice-acting before (see: Good Cop/Bad Cop in The LEGO Movie), though Deadline‘s Mike Fleming JR. cautions in his report that “I am not sure that will result in a deal.”
A Monster Calls sounds like it should be worth checking out, whether or not it ultimately features Neeson as a cast member. Bayona is also currently attached to direct a sequel to World War Z, though that studio tentpole doesn’t even have a screenwriter officially involved yet. In the meantime, we’re glad to see him working on what appears to be artistically-satisfying horror fare, like A Monster Calls and the upcoming Showtime Gothic horror series Penny Dreadful (where Bayona directed two of the eight episodes for the show’s first season).
A Monster Calls opens in U.S. theaters on October 14th, 2016.