Connor (Lewis MacDougall) is having a rough time of it in the new movie A Monster Calls, based on the book of the same name. His mother (Felicity Jones) is sick and dying from cancer and he’s being bullied at school. He’s also spending more time with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) as his mother becomes more and more ill. Connor is angry and he’s lashing out.
Enter the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), a giant talking tree that seems to have a connection to Connor. It’s there to respond to his needs and wants to a great extent. So it allows him to act out the kinds of anger and frustration that have been plaguing him, which is therapeutic. But it also pushes him to confront the truth of his situation in life and fix the things that are making him unhappy.
Just one poster for the movie, one that’s meant to show off the magical and imaginative scope of the story. Connor is shown lying down on the ground, nestled comfortably into the crook at the base of a tree, a tree that just so happens to have hands that are reaching down toward him from the top of the image. The cast list is followed by the title treatment, which is followed by the copy “Stories are wild creatures,” which provides some insights into the story and theme of the movie. The movie is tagged as coming “From the director of The Orphanage and The Impossible” to attract fans of director J.A. Bayona’s previous work.
We’re taken into fantastical world in the teaser trailer as we hear from the narration about an invisible man who’s tired of being unseen while what we see are shots of a middle-school before the boy we’ve been following is taken by some sort of monster.
That’s about it, meaning this is a true teaser and the better for it. This is all about setting the mood and establishing the premise and it accomplishes both of those well.
The next trailer expanded on the story significantly. It starts out with Conor remembering the art lessons his mother gave him as a young boy. We see she has died and he’s been taken in by a relative. Straining under the confines of his new guardian and suffering bullying at school, the monster of the title emerges as a kind of id-slash-protector, sometimes acting on his behalf and sometimes encouraging Conor to act out all on his own. We see Conor struggling with letting this out and there are hints there are some unforseen consequences to his actions, but mostly it’s about giving free reign to the impulses that lie within a young boy.
It’s a much better, more full trailer than the teaser, providing a much more complete vision of the movie. There’s sure to still be plenty of surprises, of course, but this at least gives the illusion of a well-rounded story. It’s taking a similar approach to how The BFG was marketed in some ways as the giant creature in each movie is more or less positioned as the protector or familiar to the main human character. Outside of that it’s selling a movie of the price that comes with wish fulfillment.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website follows Focus Features’ standard format for site design. That means it starts with a front page that’s loaded with information, including a graphic promoting its inclusion at the Toronto International Film Festival, one showing that it’s rated as “Fresh” on RottenTomatoes and a series of positive critic’s quotes. There are also links here to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Ignore the drop-down menu in the upper right since it’s just about general Focus content. Instead scroll down and you’ll move through a variety of video content including trailers, interviews and more, a series of production and behind-the-scenes stills, links to off-site and on-site new and interviews, the occasional positive review pull quote and lots more. As usual, the sections here are only vaguely defined and much of the content runs together, which is fine if you don’t mind a bit of mess as opposed to clearly-defined categories.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A special 60-second spot was created for Face Your Fears Day that showed the movie’s epic scale. There’s nothing about the story here, as it’s focused on showing off the visuals as well as promoting both the movie and its source book. It’s sweeping and visually stunning, managing to also convey the movie’s heart and emotional core even without any dialogue or narration.
More TV spots followed that were a bit more traditional and emphasized the story’s inspiring nature and fantastic visuals.
Online and social ads used the trailers and key art to drive interest and ticket sales. And I’m sure the key art and other imagery was also used in outdoor ads.
Media and Publicity
The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.
The director and producer talked a bit about casting Neeson and otherwise bringing this story to life in Entertainment Weekly’s big Fall movie preview issue. A bit later a big feature on Jones would cover the research she, along with co-star Weaver, did for the role, which one of several marquee placements for the actress in a short period of time.
The cast and crew talked at the movie’s premiere about what attracted them to the project, with Weaver talking about how fantasy elements are a great way to tell a story and director J.A. Bayona talking about the story in general and how fantasy helps us unleash our creativity.
Jones, Weaver and Neeson all made various stops on the talk-show circuit as well to talk about this movie, though other things came up as well. And Jones worked it into her other duties promoting Rogue One.
The key theme of the campaign seems to be “imagination.” That’s what’s lurking behind almost everything, that the power of imagination can set you free and fix your problems. It’s shown in the trailers as Connor’s mom encourages him to get out and break stuff, something the monster seems inclined to help him with. And it’s evident in the TV commercials and even the poster, which plays up the power of stories to change our world.
While there’s no real sense of continuity or consistency to the campaign – the site is much different than the trailers in look and feel, despite some similar elements – that’s alright since the whole thing is more about creating a sense of emotion than anything else. On that note the campaign succeeds. While the movie received a limited release before the new year, now that it’s going wide it will interesting to see if it connects with an audience who might be suffering the standard January moviegoing fatigue.