A Monster Calls is an intense journey through the stages of grief, and coping with the inexorable approach of death. You’re going to cry -whether you weep on the inside or bawl openly in the dark movie theater is really your only choice.
I know, with an opening like that, what else is there really to discuss?
Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a young man faced with losing his mother (Felicity Jones) in the very near future. His entire world is being upended as her health fails. His angst calls forth a monster (Liam Neeson) who, upon his arrival, ominously demands an exchange of three tales for his truth of his nightmare upon his arrival. The monster sees him though all of this and in the end, leaves him with an immutable connection to his mother of incalculable value.
The movie aptly explores the awkwardness of relationships in the face of personal grief and coping by playing out the tension between Conor and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and his relationship with his mostly absent father (Toby Kebbell). The portrayal of his breaking point is equally poignant and disturbing when it happens. Yet even in the midst of the very dark topic, this cast and script preserved that hint of the comedic that seems to always linger around a tragedy. That feeling of laugh in order not to cry… or scream.
This story isn’t told with American sensibilities in mind and will make for more than a few uncomfortable moments with the “stiff upper lip” handling Conor receives from his school officials. But this movie isn’t really about exploring his trials with school bullies in depth, it’s about demonstrating how very removed and invisible a child (or anyone) can find themselves when dealing with a tragedy that sets one apart and causes discomfort in those around them. It touches (perfectly) on the varied layers of being an outcast, an oddity, and an outsider all without removing you from the over-arching story about Conor and the deep-and utterly loving-relationship between he and his increasingly ailing mother.
A Monster Calls is a beautifully rendered blend of animation, CGI and live action. I can’t think of another movie that manages to seamlessly move between water color renderings brought to life and live storytelling without losing any depth, direction, or dimension.
A Monster Calls drags in you in, shakes you vigorously, and leaves you feeling grateful for having taken the journey.
Rating: 5 stars
For a real treat, watch Liam Neeson Reads ‘A MONSTER CALLS’
12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with far more than other boys his age. His beloved and devoted mother (Felicity Jones) is ill. He has little in common with his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away. But Conor finds a most unlikely ally when the Monster (portrayed by Liam Neeson in performance-capture and voiceover) appears at his bedroom window one night. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality.
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson
Written by: Patrick Ness, based on his novel “A Monster Calls”
Directed by: J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible,” “The Orphanage”)