In many ways, “A Monster Calls” is a beautiful film. The cinematography is creative, the score is complementary, the acting is borderline brilliant and the moral of the story is important and targeted. Based on a novel by Patrick Ness, “A Monster Calls” is an emotional film – a heavily emotional film. A typical movie crier might go through a pack of tissues in this one, while even those who rarely cry in the theater will be dabbing the corner of their eyes by the film’s final scene.
On the surface, “A Monster Calls” is about a boy and his imaginary friend. But make no mistake: This is not a film for children. For older children perhaps, but the central themes – fear, loneliness, illness, anger, and the harsh realities of life – are often a tough topic for adults, let alone kids.
That said, the movie’s central character is pre-teen Conor, who is “too old to be called a child but too young to be called a man,” as the narrator states. Conor, played brilliantly by Lewis MacDougall, is a boy whose personal story is quite complex – problems at home and at school, problems with his family and, perhaps most importantly, problems in his own head.
The first half of the movie struggles somewhat to juggle all of Conor’s issues – essentially, all of the film’s storylines – although the second half of the movie could not be more clear. Not only is MacDougall terrific in his lead role, but the rest of the cast, including Felicity Jones as his mother and Sigourney Weaver as his grandmother, all shine in their own way. And of course there is Liam Neeson, who commands your attention with every word he speaks as the voice of the monster.
Over the years, plenty of movies have attempted to teach life lessons through the use of imaginary characters. But it’s hard to recall a film where the lessons of a pretend creature hit home as forcefully as they do in “A Monster Calls.” By the end of the film, you will want to hug your parents, hug your children, and hug everyone in your row.
That said, “A Monster Calls” is not a perfect film. The movie struggles at times in juggling all of the emotional storylines with clarity and focus. The purpose of Conor’s grandmother and father and classmates – and even of the monster himself – isn’t always completely clear. And at times you wonder why so much of the film is dedicated to these characters when the relationship between Conor and his mother is really all that you want to see.
However, the final 30 minutes and the final scene in particular help the entire film make sense. You’ll leave the theater feeling emotionally drained, but you won’t be disappointed.