Monsters don’t come walking often but one comes to young Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) and it only asks him for one thing, to tell the truth, it’s harder than it looks. This is an emotional story about a boy who feels angry, guilty and broken. Like many of us as children, he struggles with bullies and receives looks of pity from everyone, because of his mother’s sickness. The question is, will Connor remain strong in the face of adversity? Will everything be okay? But most importantly, will Connor tell the whole truth and set himself free of his psychological burdens?
Based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, this film is one of the most emotionally stimulating movies I’ve seen since The Impossible. Approach this one with caution and bring plenty of tissues. Directed by J. A. Bayona, this is another one of those dark fantasy children’s features that speaks to adults more than its desired audience. Conor lives at home with his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones). She is dying, even if he doesn’t like to admit it, and that’s what this film is about. We can’t live in denial and we have to admit the inevitable even if we don’t like it.
The Monster (Liam Neeson) tells Connor three stories. They’re stories that really pack a punch and he mentions that true stories are even more potent than fictional ones, but not in those exact words. The Monster is in the form of a giant yew tree and he’s creepy looking, regardless of Neeson using his inviting Northern Irish accent. Conor learns a number of life lessons whilst secretly knowing his mom will die soon. Death is an appointment we all must keep but one for which no date is set. His mother will go to meet her maker and for Conor O’Malley, that is terrifying.
This is a moving ride. It’s dark, morbid and depressing because the themes it tackles are things families see on a daily basis. It’s brutal and harrowing yet there are elements of comedy as well. Thanks to the fantastical parts of the movie, there are some uplifting parts. Unlike most children’s movies, A Monster Calls shows us that life isn’t sparkly and full of happy endings. If the end is any consolation, it tells us that reality is anything but happy. Life is unpredictable and it’s no fairy tale. Much alike stories, life is a wild creature. You can see exactly where this film is going from the moment we are witness to Mum’s condition.
Felicity Jones (Rogue One) as Mum with Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) as Grandma and Toby Kebell (Warcraft) as Dad all give great performances but we all know Lewis McDougall steals the film. As well as the performances, this film excels with its narratives and themes, but above all, its use of special effects is truly remarkable. With Bayona’s visionary direction, A Monster Calls is a must see for audiences of all ages.