“A Monster Calls”
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and scary images
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features
Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is understandably miserable. First of all, the 12-year-old divorced mom (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill. Second, they’re both estranged from his father (Toby Kebbell) who has long since started another family over in America.
Third, Conor is tired of being mistreated by his cold-hearted grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who cares more about her prized possessions than his welfare. And finally, he’s routinely teased at school by a bully (James Melville) about always being off in his own dream world.
So, it’s no surprise when Conor starts being plagued by nightmares on a daily basis. A few minutes after midnight, the giant yew tree (Liam Neeson) standing in the graveyard outside his bedroom window turns into an intimidating, anthropomorphic monster.
Despite its imposing presence, the beast gradually gains the kid’s confidence, agreeing to tell a trio of insightful allegories on the condition that Conor reciprocate with one of his own. The idea, ostensibly, is that there will be a meaningful lesson to be learned from each of the parables.
That is the point of departure of “A Monster Calls,” a bittersweet escapist fantasy directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible). The movie is based on the illustrated children’s novel of the same name by Patrick Ness who also adapted it to the big screen. Ness’ award-winning book was inspired by the late Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before she could tackle the semi-autobiographical project herself.
The film is less a feel-good flick than a picture about making the best of a bad situation. For, the monster’s stories paint a sobering picture of life that’s anything but rosy. However, they do ultimately enable Conor to own up about his deepest fear, when it’s his turn to share.
Given the mature themes and the dire plot developments, it’s hard to recommend A Monster Calls for vulnerable youngsters. Nevertheless, it is unique in its approach to preparing a tweener to processing an impending tragedy.
A visually-enchanting, if fateful, fairy tale.