Reviews: emotions run deep when A Monster Calls

Published On May 4, 2017 | By Richmond Clements | Film TV & Theatre, Reviews

A Monster Calls,
Directed by J.A. Bayona,
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, Toby Kebbell, James Melville

I missed this movie at the cinema. I’d heard many good things about it, so I was looking forward to catching it here now it’s getting its DVD and Blu-Ray release.

The short, spoiler-free version of this review is that this is a simply astonishing, emotional movie.

Director J. A. Bayona had previously directed the amazing Spanish language horror The Orphanage, one of a recent crop of films that has very much put Spanish horror/fantasy on the international map. That movie was also produced be Guillermo Del Toro, and the sensibilities, production design and sense of quiet dread both these directors can instill runs through the heart of this movie.

The story centers around a young boy called Conor O’Malley. Conor is dealing with a lot of heavy stuff in his life. He’s being bullied at school, his dad is distant, living in Los Angeles (while Conor lives in the UK) and, on top of all this, his mother has terminal cancer.

It’s while this young lad is trying to deal with all of this, that a monster appears in his room. This monster is voiced by Liam Neeson, who is utterly perfect in the role. The monster promises it will return another four times. On three of these, it will tell him a story, and on the forth, Conor must tell the monster a tale of his own.

So, that is what happens, but what the movie is about is so much more.

The whole theme of acceptance of the inevitable, of being honest about our most guilty, selfish desires and of growing up is handled superbly. Which isn’t a surprise, as the screenplay was written by the author of the original book, Patrick Ness.

For the first act, and even towards the end of the second, I was enjoying this movie a lot – but I wasn’t getting it in the feels. But man, I was so wrong, because when the feels hit, they really hit. I’m not going to spoiler anything, but man, they do not shy away from any of the heavy scenes that this movie threatens in the earlier acts; this is some very, deeply emotional material to deal with.

The special effects are flawless. The monster looks real – well, as real as a huge tree spirit can. I mean that it has real weight and real presence when it appears. And when you’re making a movie about dealing with loss and what that does to someone, casting Neeson as the monster is nothing short of genius. When Neeson, as the monster, tells us the stories, the film moves to a delicious looking watercolour animation that’s delightful to look at, and pays off in the the most wonderful fashion later on.

Talking of casting, again, this is faultless. Felicity Jones, last seen in Rogue One, plays your heartstrings like a violin as Conor’s mother. Sigourney Weaver is as great as you’d expect as his slightly aloof, but trying her best to cope, grandmother. And as for Conor… wow. Lewis MacDougall is a revelation in this role. The entire movie hangs on us believing in him and the turbulent emotional journey of this young boy,  and he absolutely nails it. We laugh and cry along with him, and totally buy into his relationships with the other characters.

So, I said at the start that I missed this movie in the cinema. After watching it I was, in a way, glad I did. Why, you ask? Because bawling my eyes out in public is not the best look, and believe me, you will bawl your eyes out, and on disc I could do that with some privacy.

Buy this. It is superb.

A Monster Calls is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 8th

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About The Author

Richmond Clements

Richmond Clements has been both writing about comics and writing the comics themselves for many years, as well as other works, including being an editor for FutureQuake Press and being co-founder of the Hi-Ex series of comic conventions in Inverness.

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