Reviews: an emotional journey in A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls,
Directed by J.A. Bayona,
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, Toby Kebbell, James Melville
A fantastical tale about a young boy who is horrifically bullied at school while going through a home life that is far from perfect, that has A Monster Call on him at four different times. The first three times that this gigantic tree monster calls he tells him a story and the fourth, it is expected, that the young boy tells the monster a story, a story of what is his nightmare.
This film brought home some of the memories that I haven’t given much thought to in recent years, my own ill health has taken over a little, but they are memories that deserve their place in my mind. My own fathers struggle with cancer, and the bullying that I experienced in school, both events which changed or shaped me through life. When I tell people that I was bullied in school it always seems a little shocking to them as I’m a very well built guy, and always was, but believe in peace rather than violence so that seemed to get the attention of the cowards. My father struggled with cancer, and in this film it’s the mother to the young boy Conor who is fighting the fight against that despicable disease. I’ll admit now that I left the cinema in tears at this film for all the right reasons.
The film is a mix of live action and animation that works well. The stories that the Monster, who is voiced by Liam Neeson, are animated to highlight them and the animation that they use works well to blend in with the stories. All these stories are to help the young Conor with the bullying and being the carer of his Mother. The ever changing life that Conor has would send most children running to the hills but this young fighter is made of stronger stuff. His bullying is allowed to continue because, like most victims of bullying, he stays quiet, not wanting to add to the hardship of his family, and slight because there is a wrong assumption in the mind of the bullied that they somehow deserve it.
Conor is played by an amazing young performer called Lewis MacDougall and he gives Conor a proper backbone and stubborn nature while also being a frail child, tossed around by life. This performance is so central to the movie working and nearly every scene is stolen by the young lad. Conor’s home life, being raised by his mother, with his father living with his new family in America, and the headstrong mother of his mother trying to take charge in a caring way, would be enough to deal with but the cowards at school who bully him just bring him to the edge.
The cast is filled with great performances from Felicity Jones as Mom, and Toby Kebbell as Dad, while Sigourney Weaver plays Grandma. Weaver is powerful as ever and has a great presence when she steps in. You feel the bond between her and Conor as well as the conflict, neither of them wants to be in this situation watching Mom die, but as much as they hate the disease and what it’s doing to their lives, they are not going to give up on one another.
A Monster Calls brings you around the world with emotions, one moment you are marvelling at the special effects of the Monster, which is some brilliant place between Terry Gilliam and a Roald Dahl creation, to the anger of the coward bullies, to the tears that cancer brings more times than not. I cannot compare this to other films as for me it manages to take the childhood experience of an outsider kid and make it magical while not making it sweet.
This is far from sweet in fact. But it’s a medicine that we must look at in marvel. Such a beautiful tale that is told with a clever hand and wonderful performance. In the years to come I hope that children who are being bullied and going through hard times find this film, or the novel by Patrick Ness which is is based on, and find some solace in the words and motions, the heart of the young Conor, the struggle of the family, and the love that is shown between the family members, this is one of the films of the year for me. I’m tearing up just thinking about this. Have a good cry at a great movie.