Review: A Monster Calls
PLOT: A young boy dealing with his terminally ill mother discovers solace in a mysterious creature who comes calling outside his window. While doing so, he realizes that he must confront the darkest and harshest truths of facing loss and the reality that life must go on.
REVIEW: As an adult, it is difficult enough to suffer a loss. Imagine a young child watching a parent or loved one face the inevitable. My own family has been dealing with the grief of the passing of a loved one, and it is a tricky thing to explain to someone still learning about the way of the world. This is exactly why A MONSTER CALLS is so brilliantly successful. The story of a young boy watching his own mother facing cancer is heartbreaking and utterly beautiful. The performances are fantastic and yes, the monster who comes calling is quite effective. Awakened from his slumber, the beast is an old and knowing gigantic tree - with shades of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and Groot from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - he presents the young man with a handful of stories to help him during a difficult time. His only request is that the boy tell the truth.
Lewis MacDougall is Conor, a young man dealing with his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones). Not only is he haunted by the very real fact that he will lose her, he also faces bullying at school and a cold grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who is frustrated by her grandson’s actions. One night, after a particularly trying time, the boy finds that a majestic tree has come to life. The creature comes to his window seemingly to tell him a story. Not sure whether it is his imagination or the real thing, the monster returns leading young Conor on his own journey. Sometimes painful, perhaps a little scary, yet as each day passes Conor learns more and more about what wisdom his new mysterious friend brings.
As far as movies made for children go, A MONSTER CALLS is a deeply effective tale. Based on the novel by Patrick Ness, the feature film version is not easy. In fact, often times it is near painful to witness the struggle Conor faces. From the children at school who constantly berate him to the frail condition of his mother; even his father - the parents are separated - seems to not be able to process what his son is dealing with. Thankfully we get to see the incredibly talented Toby Kebbell without the assistance of CG and motion-capture. This is a complex story that manages to deal with the very real pain of loss without cheating on the reality of the tragic situation.
When it comes to the monster, Liam Neeson is the perfect choice. His voice rings with horror one minute, and the next he is comforting and warm. As far as his appearance, the massive tree may seem similar to a couple of recently mentioned films, but aside from being a giant tree this still feels like an original creation. The connection this mythical creature has with the boy is as complicated as the relationship he has with all those who love him. Even with the stern and cold grandmother, there is depth there that is explored throughout. As a fantasy, it manages to create real magic but without the sugarcoating we usually see in stories such as this.
Directed by J.A. Bayona (THE IMPOSSIBLE, THE ORPHANAGE), there is much to admire whether in the world of fantasy, or the cold, hard reality. The final sequence is magnificent, not only on a visual level but an emotional one as well. The filmmaker manages to capture the beauty and darkness of The Monster as well as the hurtful reality where Conor watches his mother suffer. Again, having had to experience something similar recently, I can honestly say that watching this can be a challenge as every single emotion comes out in spades.Yet there is hope. Even though you may want to bring tissue, there is strength here that is just as relevant to Conor as the fear. This is just beautiful.
The first time I caught this was months back, and I have yet to forget about the fantastic work from the actors involved. Felicity Jones is the heart of it all with a sweet and nuanced performance. Toby Kebbell brings something truly special to what could have been a throwaway role - it isn’t at all here. And Sigourney Weaver is a powerhouse. At one time she can be heartless and cruel, however, we see her journey as well, and it is just as profound as any of the other characters. And finally we have Lewis MacDougall. The young actor is astonishing. To take on this kind of role and bring the level of depth he manages to do at such a young age is extraordinary.
A MONSTER CALLS is a difficult film to watch. If you’ve ever lost a loved one or dealt with any sort of tragedy, this one may hit you hard. Of course, sometimes the most rewarding experiences are earned and this earns it. This is about truth. It is about facing your own feelings no matter how difficult it may be. We all feel guilt and pain when facing something devastating, and yet in the end we must move on. Perhaps writing this review is part of my own process. In fact, watching this I was left contemplating everything about life. Not only is this a brilliant tale, it is one that will open up families to discussion. And it should.
At it’s heart, A MONSTER CALLS is a metaphor for facing the darkness and looking past it. Most of you have probably already dealt with such things, and for the most part we find our way out to continue on. I highly recommend to families, but be warned, if the children are very young it may frighten them quite a bit. However, if this opens up discussion then you may be all the better for it. If you are looking for a lighthearted kids flick about a friendly beast then you might want to wait until a certain Disney release next year featuing Emma Watson. Hopefully, audiences looking for something unique and special will welcome this gorgeous drama into their heart.
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