Movie Review: A Monster Calls (2016)
Version: Library borrow
In A Monster Calls, young Conor, who lives in a small village in England, is having trouble in school and issues at home. Some boys in class are bullying him and he has learned he may have to live with his grandmother while his single mother goes back to the hospital for treatment of a terminal illness. When his father visits from America, he isn't any help. Then the Monster arises from the roots of his mother's favorite large yew tree in the distance.
The Monster is larger than a house and damaging to the things around Conor, yet quite gentle toward him. But there is menace in his message. He will tell Conor three stories, and when he is done, Conor must tell him about his dream. The Monster tells Conor his stories after critical troublesome events, and it isn't until the final troubling occurrence that Conor is forced to reveal his terrible dream -- his nightmare, something that Conor is loathe to discuss. But perched atop a crumbling sinkhole in an old church graveyard, the Monster insists.
A Monster Calls is really a well told tale about a child forced to face his worst fears. And lead actor Lewis MacDougall as Conor plays the role with every bit of energy and emotion within him. There is no joy in this role, only fear, anger, sadness, and finally, relief. Sigourney Weaver plays his straight-laced but forbearing grandmother and Felicity Jones plays his sick but doting Mum. Liam Neeson is the voice of The Monster. But the real star and center of this film is Conor.
British films have a definitive quality that brings out the best in them, and A Monster Calls is all that. The quaint village setting, the eerie church graveyard, the staid grandmother's home, the cluttered public school and hospital -- all could have been lifted from a Harry Potter movie lot. The Monster reminds me of a very tall Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, except he actually speaks full, adult sentences. Perhaps there's a bit of the Ents in him from The Lord of the Rings, too.
What may be troublesome for younger audiences is that A Monster Calls addresses the fear of death, and while it has a final good ending for Conor, it may be a bit much for children to face. It could be cathartic for teens and adults. My wife cried watching it, remembering the trauma of facing her father's death decades ago. Is this film for everyone? Possibly not. But it is a good film for those brave enough to face the monster staring them down.