Wednesday, January 11, 2017


When it comes to movies that have a kid, or kids, as the main characters, it’s natural for adults to let out a collective groan. After all, kids are usually put into a film so younger audiences can have something to relate to, and such a film could, and is often, simplified for younger minds to the point where adults are bored to tears. But every once in a while we get a film which is very much geared toward adults which just happens to have a young person as the main character. Meet JA Bayona’s A MONSTER CALLS.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall), is dealing with his cancer-stricken mom (Felicity Jones), often-absent dad (Toby Kebbell), overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and several bullies at school when he begins to have visits from a giant monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who promises to tell Conor three stories in exchange for his own.

It doesn’t take long for any adult mind to feel for our main character. Conor is dealing with a lot of adult issues; the possibility of losing his mom, having to go live somewhere he doesn’t want to (with the grandmother), frustrations with a dad who would rather be elsewhere, and big mean bullies who make everyday a living hell. As the opening lines of the film tell us, Conor is too old to be considered a boy, but still too young to be a man, and he begins the film somewhere inbetween while his world seems utterly hopeless.

Once the monster appears with his promise of telling three stories in exchange for Conor’s own, A MONSTER CALLS dives deeper into not only Conor but all of us. Director JA Bayona is playing with a lot of metaphor here, as each story relates to something in Conor’s life, and the story that the monster wants from Conor is the truth to what is really bothering him. Where most directors may use all of these allegories and parables like sledgehammers, Bayona has a gentle touch going on which makes every point hit home with just the right impact.

The stories that the monster tells are represented through different animation styles and they are stunning to take in. They give A MONSTER CALLS an excellent balance of real-life tragedy and fantasy, and has a great message of the power of storytelling and imagination and why they’re so important to us all. The CGI monster himself, who is tree-like and indeed monstrous, seems to look better during the daytime scenes than the nighttime, and the rest of the visual effects are wonderfully made. Overall the film looks gorgeous, and Fernando Velazquez’s score is perfect.

Lewis MacDougall, in his first feature film, is a wonderful actor and carries the film. He does a lot of heavy lifting, and his scenes with his mom and grandmother, which range from the most painful to the most angry…are perfectly done. Felicity Jones is heartbreaking as the dying mom, and Sigourney Weaver, despite losing her British accent here and there…does great work going up against MacDougall; there is a scene of angry tension between the two, without dialogue, which is hard to watch it’s so real. Liam Neeson is spot-on as the voice of the monster.

By the time the credits roll, there won’t be a dry-eye in the theatre, as the film goes for an emotional gut-punch and connects, but before those credits roll…a single glance from one character changes everything we thought we understood about the film. A MONSTER CALLS is an emotional journey with many themes going on, with the least being that sad melancholy concerning all things which must pass from this world; namely life and youth. There is nothing to moan about here.


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