Adapted by Patrick Ness from his 2011 novel, A Monster Calls is a modern fairy tale that will have the audience sobbing by the end.
Trying to reconcile his life living with his very ill mother (Felicity Jones), and avoid living with a grandmother he can’t stand (Sigourney Weaver), Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is young – not quite a boy, not quite a man, somewhere in between, as we’re told. He has a lot on his mind, understandably. Not to mention a giant tree monster (Liam Neeson) – part Treebeard, part Groot, and part terrifying – has begun paying him nightly visits.
I doubt I’m the first to bring up Guillermo del Toro‘s masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth in relation to this film, but it’s an apt comparison. Both films deal with a child dealing with a sick mother and a world of uncertainty around them while descending into a world of fantasy that may or may not be real. While being based in a fairy tale world and featuring a child protaganist, A Monster Calls, like Pan’s Labyrinth is not necessarily a film for children. It’s a very dark story indeed, allegorical to the fear of losing a loved one, the fear of letting go, and the internal conflicts that those fears create.
Visually a treat, not only is Neeson’s monster satisfyingly visceral and monstrous looking, but the world we dive into as the monster imparts upon Conor stories of good and evil and things in between is richly animated. Combining impressive practical effects with seamless cgi, and pairing the result with more traditional animation that could be right at home next to some of your favorite classics results in A Monster Calls being just wonderfully realized.
Not quite obvious with where it is taking you, the story held my attention from start to finish as I began to piece together what it all was saying. By the time I realized where things were headed, it was too late – the story had me in its full emotional grip. Heartbreaking in all the right ways to be an effective fable, it approaches grief in a stylized yet frank manner, accessible and meaningful to both adults and a more mature young audience. Think Bridge to Terabithia.
There’s something extremely affecting about this film, it’s not shy about plying your psyche as it puts Conor’s on display. Not all fairy tales have the happy ending you might expect, and this is a good example. Powerful and wonderful, but know what you’re getting into before sitting down in front of this one.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“This movie is terribly sad.”
Brother Hamster did not screen this film
My review: Four out of five hats
A Monster Calls stomps into wide release January 6