Mark Kermode told his viewers they should prepare to cry if they watched J. A. Boyona’s latest fantasy film A Monster Calls. I would pass on the same message to anyone planning on watching this. You may ask whether the film is worth the tears? The answer is yes, absolutely. As Kermode says, ‘fairy tales, at their best, are fantastical stories that help us deal with things that are very real and down to earth’. This is certainly what A Monster Calls achieves in a very effective and poignant way.
The coming-of-age film is about a young, English boy in a very bad place. Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is being bullied at school, his father (Toby Kebbell) has another life in America and his mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from an illness from which her health is deteriorating. This all combines for a very arduous time in the life of a boy on the cusp of becoming a teenager. To make matters worse, Conor, an exceptionally talented artist, has been having the same haunting nightmare for the last few months.
One night at 12:07, a surreal, tree monster (Liam Neeson) visits him. He lives on a hill within the graveyard overlooking Conor’s house. At first, Conor thought the monster might be trying to hurt him, but he remains fearless and wishes to protect his mother from this creature. The monster informs him he will tell him three stories over the coming nights and the fourth one will be told by Conor himself. For the rest of the film we witness these fantastic stories linking in with events that are happening within Conor’s own life. Conor battles with bullies, his grandmother, father and his mother’s flailing health alongside the pockets of wisdom the monster gives to him within these stories.
I watched this film with my friend, a self-professed film snob. He enjoyed it, although his shuffling for the first part of the film attests the fact it was a little slow to begin with. Despite the slow start, MacDougall puts in a good performance of a child in emotional turmoil and Jones puts in a brilliant, harrowing portrayal of an ill mother doing all she can to comfort her son.
I think most fantasy films tend to be aimed towards either adults/teenagers or children. For example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is aimed towards adult watchers and How to Train your Dragon is aimed towards a younger audience. In comparison to these examples, A Monster Calls was quite rare in how it works for viewers of this fantasy film. It is catered towards children; after all, it is all about a young boy and a fantastic monster telling him stories of years gone by! However, the subject matter concerns itself with how people deal with tragic life events; this is a very adult topic. Boyona managed to pull off a well-balanced film for both audiences. From my adult-viewer’s perspective, it remained engaging and emotionally complex. From a child’s perspective, the film contained amazing CGI and a story that could be easily understood.
A Monster Calls is hard-hitting and very poignant. Whilst the fantasy aspect may not be for some adults, if you try to understand what it is trying to convey, you will be more likely to appreciate it. The film takes you on a journey through the various emotions of a young boy in a world of uncertainty. Along the way, there are opportunities for laughter and smiles, but you will no doubt cry as well. Indulge in the film and take the opportunity to explore the tough facts of life through a child’s eyes.