Synopsis: A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mum’s terminal illness.
Release Date: January 6, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Fantasy
When a movie has the word “monster” in the title, it’s usually one of two things. It can be a horror movie, like last year’s The Monster, or it can be a children’s movie, like Monsters, Inc. Or sometimes, it can be both. That’s kind of the case with A Monster Calls.
A Monster Calls is about a young boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall from Pan) whose mother (Felicity Jones from The Theory of Everything and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is terminally ill. Because of this, Conor spends most of his time being cared for by his grandmother (Alien‘s Sigourney Weaver). With no friends, Conor looks outside his window for solace and unexpectedly summons a tree monster (motion captured and voiced by Liam Neeson from the Taken movies). The monster tells Conor that he will tell the boy three stories, and after the last, Conor must tell a story, one about his darkest fears. Conor relishes in the monster’s tales, but is secretly afraid of what he’ll learn about himself from his own story when it’s time to tell it.
Okay, so to say that A Monster Calls is a children’s horror movie isn’t really accurate. While it can be viewed as both, it also can be seen as neither. It’s directed by Guillermo del Toro pal J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage), so it has a horror connection, and young adult author Patrick Ness adapted his own novel into the screenplay, so there’s that as well. While A Monster Calls deals with dark and dreadful subject matter, it does so in a way that is not necessarily frightening, so it may be suitable for some older kids (it earns its PG-13 rating with some of its ideas and imagery). But, those going into it expecting a del Toro-style fantasy horror movie will be disappointed, and those who expect a Roald Dahl-esque sugar-sweet morality play will be, as well.
That’s not to say that A Monster Calls is a disappointing film. Not by a long shot. What A Monster Calls does is deal with grief and mourning head-on without sugar-coating it like a lot of movies about children meeting monsters do. It’s some of the most affecting and effective filmmaking in recent memory, and will touch a nerve in everyone who sees it in some way, shape, or form. Whether you want it to touch that nerve is up to you.
A Monster Calls is a simple story that deals with complex emotions and feelings. It’s a very well made movie – it looks great, the narrative is put together well, and it features some great performances. It’s a can’t-miss experience for early teenagers, but you may want to think about leaving the younger kids at home. It is about a monster, after all.
It goes without saying that a movie about a monster is going to lean hard on its visual effects, and the effects in A Monster Calls brilliantly tell the story in a way that is both fun and unique. The effects range from practical special effects to computer generated imagery to traditional animation, and it’s all seamlessly intertwined. The movie jumps from Conor’s real life to the monster’s fantasy world without stopping to take a breath or come up for air. Of course, the monster is CG, with Liam Neeson providing the mo-cap so that it is much more than just a sterile beast – the monster is alive with sensitivity and character, yet he’s still obviously a monster that looks suspiciously like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy (only with Neeson’s eyes and facial features…it’s uncanny). When the narrative switches to the monster’s storytelling, the action switches to simple animated line drawings of princes and princesses acting out his words. It may sound like that would be jarring, but the transition between the styles is very smooth. An integral and essential element to the movie, the special effects in A Monster Calls are slick and well done.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): J.A. Bayona
- Producer(s): Belén Atienza
- Screenwriter(s): Patrick Ness
- Story: Siobhan Dowd
- Cast: Lewis MacDougall (Conor)Sigourney Weaver (Grandma)Felicity Jones (Mum) Toby Kebbell (Dad)Ben Moor (Mr. Clark)James Melville (Harry)Oliver Steer (Sully)Dominic Boyle (Anton)Jennifer Lim (Miss Kwan)Max Gabbay (Steven)Lily-Rose Asiandogdu (Lily)Liam Neeson (The Monster)
- Editor(s): Jaume Marti
- Cinematographer: Oscar Faura
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Steven Noble
- Casting Director(s): Shaheen Baig
- Music Score: Fernando Velázquez
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: UKUSA