A Monster Calls.
I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile and it finally hit wide-release. When you combine an emotional rollercoaster with a giant monster, it’s right up my alley. Was this movie able to capitalize on that?
We follow young Conor (Lewis MacDougall) as he struggles with the impending death of his mother (Felicity Jones). He is confronted with the idea of moving in with his hardened grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and is somewhat rejected by his father (Toby Kebbell) who has moved to the United States. To add onto all of this, he’s also bullied constantly at school. One night, he meets an ancient tree that sprouts legs and talks to him, espousing wisdom and offering to tell Conor three stories that will somehow illuminate his situation. This tree is voiced by Liam Neeson.
When you hear that the movie is about a young boy trying to cope with the death of his mother, you know it’s going to be a rocky go. And it is, absolutely heartbreaking and raw and incredibly authentic. Our Conor is played perfectly by relative newcomer Lewis MacDougall, who brings this character to life in ways that really surprised me. You’ll want to bring a box or two of Kleenex.
The other cast is all great too. Felicity Jones is (as expected) great, though is relatively absent. Her presence is felt throughout the entire movie though. It’s also nice to see Toby Kebbell in a good movie, after a few huge missteps lately. The divisive aspect of the cast is Sigourney Weaver, who gives a great performance though has an inconsistent and jarring accent.
This movie will be split among audiences. Here’s what the movie is: An emotional journey of a boy coping with death. It’s not: A monster movie. The monster here is just a way for Conor to come to grips with what’s happening. It’s the voice in his head offering insight and wisdom that he needs to hear. This monster, while it does have a few action sequences, is not especially prevalent in the film. So if you want a fantastical adventure film, this movie will likely disappoint. It is long and somewhat slow, it’s an emotional journey rather than an adventurous one.
Art plays an important character here as well, as the monster tells three stories throughout the movie, each one displayed in a highly-stylized manner, echoing the art that Conor is creating in the film. It might ebb and flow like watercolor for example. These stories are visually very interesting and colorful, especially considering the neutral tone of the rest of the movie.
What doesn’t work?
Just a few small things.
The effects used to create the monster aren’t stellar, which is fine considering he’s not supposed to be real. Sigourney Weaver’s accent bugged me throughout.
And as a notice, even though this movie is only rated PG-13, it’s still a slow and dark movie tackling death and grief, so it’s not ideal for young kids. They’ll get antsy very easily. We had a few kids in my theater that were really struggling.
A Monster Calls is fantastic, as long as you know what to expect going in. This is a journey of grief, played out in the mind of an imaginative kid who doesn’t know what to do or say. It’s tough to watch and it’s a bit of a downer, but the performances are all top-notch. I loved the hyper-emotional story and found it very relatable, so I had a really great experience. It’s a unique way to convey grief and loss, done so very tactfully, so if you think that’s up your alley, do yourself a favor and add this to your “must see” list.