Review – A Monster Calls


by Kevin Muller

Every so often in Hollywood, film makers throw at us a movie that looks like one that young children would enjoy, but contain themes that are way beyond their years.     In 2009, the long awaited adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” finally came to cinemas.  Many were expecting a movie about the adventures of a boy and a few oversized monsters.   What they got was a deep and meaningful piece of art about the emotions that Max, the human main character of the story, goes through and how he must deal with these extreme feelings.  Yeah, this definitely sounds like something a six year old would eat up.  Sarcasm aside, even though the movie was lauded by critics, it left many children and parents, wanting to find a movie to keep their kids occupied for two hours, cold to what was done to the beloved children’s novel.

“A Monster Calls” based on the trailers is something a young kid would probably would die to see.  You have lonely boy who befriends a giant tree that helps him through a difficult time and they smash things to release anger.  Plus, they both go after the school bully!  Well, half of that is correct here.   Once again, this is a movie that really isn’t what the trailers sell it to be, but it is one that has a very beautiful way to express the theme of a child dealing with the unfortunate event of a parents upcoming death.

Young Conor O’Maley is taking care of his sick mother, who is dying of terminal cancer.  Since his father left them to live in America, he has the responsibility of being the man of the house.   On top of that, he is being bullied at school and seems to have no friends.   His only escape is through his passion of drawing, given to him by his artist mother, and his imagination.  A tree near a cemetery comes to life and comes knocking at his door.  Conor is the only one who can see and interact with him, hence why no one calls the cops, and begins a journey of self-discovery and acceptance at the grim events to come.

Director J.A. Bayona, gives this dark tale a distinct style that makes me more than a tear jerker.  Some of the most creative directing comes from the lessons, formed as stories, that the monster tells young Conor.  They are broken down in the water color style that Conor and his mother used to paint in.  The scene that take place in real life are all filmed in very basic colors that reflect the hopelessness that young Conor feels.  Liam Neeson who, next to Morgan Freeman, has a very distinct voice, gives the monster the proper vocal performance that it need to make this journey as emotional as it is.  

Outside of the beautifully created and performed creature, the human performances are just as impressive.   Lewis MacDougall, plays around with emotions and feelings that are way beyond his years.  He rightfully inhabits the loneliness and utter mayhem of a boy seeing his mother slowly die.   The movie does throw an interesting curveball with how young Conor deals with the world around him involving a bully at school.   It was an interesting choice since many movies deal with the conflict of a bully a certain way.   MacDougall has fine chemistry with his mother played by Felicity Jones.   

Jones, the Academy Award nominated actress does go all in with her performance.  The beautiful actress throws away any hesitation with looking camera ready to really dive into the life of a dying cancer patient.  Her lips are dull, chap, her eyes hallow, her skin lacks the life that it possesses in the flashbacks.   Unfortunately, the role doesn’t have much for her to chew on but she does a great job with it.

“A Monster Calls” is a tough watch at times.  The movie really goes to deep and ugly places that may either bore young children or make them very upset.   This is a movie about children, made by adults, not a standard family picture.  Children will get something out of this but the child must be ready to sit through a lot of sorrow and tears.   Still, it is a respectable movie about a very dreary subject.



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