The monster does not come walking often. This time it comes to Connor, and it asks for the one thing Connor cannot bring himself to do. Tell the truth. This is a very touching story about a boy who feels very damaged, guilty and mostly angry. He struggles at school with bullies, and pity looks from everyone, and at home with his mother’s sickness. Will Connor overcome his problems? Will everything be okay? Will Connor be able to speak the truth?
Review A Monster Call
Review A Monster Call
Sadness is an unavoidable response to “A Monster Calls.” Director J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage,” “The Impossible”) is tasked with brightening up somber material, using heavy swings of fantasy to alleviate a tale that touches on terminal illness, bullying, and absentee parenting. While never jaunty, “A Monster Calls” does reach a compelling level of mystery to keep it on the move, working to wrap its arms around the saga of a teenage boy facing the grim reality of death for the first time in his life, turning to his imagination to help deal with a flurry of feelings. Behaviors ring true and performances are aces here, helping Bayona find the life in all the darkness, hitting proper tearjerker beats without corrupting a fascinating study of adolescent denial.Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a young teen facing a disastrous future after his mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), starts to lose her longtime battle with cancer. Unable to process the situation in a healthy way, Conor lashes out at those working to help him, including his distant Grandma (Sigourney Weaver), who doesn’t know how to handle the boy’s needs, reaching out to his absentee Dad (Tony Kebbell) to help keep an eye on the child. Screaming internally, Conor finds a companion in The Monster (Liam Neeson), a giant creature born from a yew tree who visits the boy at a special time every night, sharing three knotted tales of previous encounters with twisted, tortured people. Baffled by the arrival, Conor soon begins to rely on The Monster for life lessons and empowerment, facing trouble at school with violent bullies, disappointment with his Dad, frustration with Grandma, and anger toward Lizzie, whose slow death weighs heavily on the boy, unable to verbalize the dark feelings he carries inside.
“A Monster Calls” doesn’t hide Lizzie’s illness. She’s in rough shape from the get-go, struggling to maintain hope and stability for the sake of her son, who’s trying just as hard to keep it together. However, instead of being a story of sickness, the picture makes time to understand life in the shadow of cancer, finding Conor a troubled kid who simply doesn’t have the maturity or patience to grasp everything he’s feeling, watching his life threatened by disruption as guardianship is worked out, with the teen bothered by a decision to have him live with Grandma, pulled from pure parental warmth and trapped in his grandparent’s museum-like home, where he isn’t allowed to touch anything. It’s a house rule that’s no match for a child with increasingly hostile behavioral issues.
Of course, there’s a monster in “A Monster Calls,” and he’s terrifically designed, looking like a larger, more irritable Ent from “The Lord of the Rings.” However, while playing with his capacity for intimidation, The Monster has much to share with Conor, remaining cordial with the boy, entering his world with a plan to share tales of storybook kingdoms facing ruin, spotlighting troubled characters and loaded situations to help stimulate Conor into action. The storytelling sequences are animated to provide fantastical fluidity, dosing the effort with a few drops of the unreal to give the picture a unique visual identity. It works, along with Neeson’s growly performance, gifting The Monster real presence and contemplative reflection. The Monster is horrifying, but he’s also dimensional, finding Neeson working with CGI to manufacture more than just a beast with pronounced psychological issues. “A Monster Calls” is actually better with only slivers of Monster aggression, using Neeson’s natural way with drama to launch the metaphorical stories, giving the material an askew depiction of therapy, only with more trashed buildings and nightmare scenarios.