Film Review: "A Monster Calls"

Based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, “A Monster Calls” is a unique kind of film, especially in the coming-of-age genre. This isn’t a predictable “growing up” film where the main character is immature and childish in the beginning and mature and responsible by the end of the movie. The storyline and writing helps to create something much more than your typical coming-of-age film.   And boy does it pack an emotional punch.

"A Monster Calls" official advertisement. (Photo from IMDB)

"A Monster Calls" official advertisement. (Photo from IMDB)

Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) lives alone with his mother (Felicity Jones). Conor must deal with both his mother’s terminal illness and constant bullying at school. While he is faced with what seem like obstacles he can’t overcome, one night he encounters a giant humanoid monster (Liam Neeson) that acts as a tree in a nearby cemetery. The monster has arrived in order to tell Conor different stories that will help guide him through these obstacles.

“A Monster Calls” is a powerful movie. Not only does it deliver on the more mystical elements of the story, but it also succeeds in providing the audience with a story both familiar and unique at the same time. It is able to create an emotional experience for the audience from the first scene all the way to the end. It becomes more and more impactful as the movie progresses, making the ending an emotional punch in the gut.

What makes the story emotional and relatable is the characters and the performances of the actors. Lewis MacDougall gives a great performance as he presents Conor’s struggles through the difficult times he lives in. He expresses humility, sorrow, anger, fear, and joy in very effective ways and makes his character relatable. This is hard to do, especially for someone his age. The 12-year-old actor is a talent to keep your eye on.

The rest of the cast does does a fine job as well. Felicity Jones plays a great mother to MacDougall’s Conor and very effectively portrays a caring, strong, brave mother who loves her son while also depicting the weaknesses and vulnerabilities she possesses. Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell also appear in the film and both give great performances as Conor’s grandmother and father respectively. They both effectively play their parts as huge influences, good or bad, to Conor’s path towards maturity while also receiving character development themselves as the movie goes on.

But the biggest standout of the film is Liam Neeson’s monster. It’s not because he’s the most well-written character with the most complex backstory. It’s because of how perfectly interwoven he is into the actual storyline and how he influences Conor’s growth during a rough period in his life. While the monster isn’t really the main focus of the film, you can definitely feel the weight he puts on the story. He is particularly interesting because the movie never addresses whether he’s actually real or not. It understands that the real focus of the film is Conor’s daily struggles and how he deals with them. The monster acts more as an element of the story that helps bring character growth to Conor.

Even though this is a family film, the movie is certainly not meant for little kids as it is more serious and darker than most in the genre. But that’s what makes it great. The film deals with very serious and complex themes about death, love, loss, and negative emotions. It is able to balance the tone with its messages to create a film that is 50 percent a coming-of-age tale and 50 percent a fairy tale.

The film does an incredible job incorporating fantasy elements into the story to make it a vibrant and beautiful experience. The visual effects add a lot to the mystical imagery by incorporating color palates and bright visuals that capture the essence and tone of the scene at hand, to the point where it started to feel like a fairy tale. Together, the more serious tone and diverse visuals blend beautifully to create a visually-enriching sight to behold.

Overall, “A Monster Calls” is a powerfully-written coming-of-age tale with a great use of magical realism that sets it apart from the rest of the genre. Great performances, three-dimensional characters, and complex imagery and messages make this a relatable story and an incredible emotional rollercoaster. Just make sure you bring a tissue box because you’re gonna need it.