Hot Take: The 2000s gets its version of The NeverEnding Story only slightly more mature and with a stronger, more coherent message about dealing with loss at a young age.
For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy A Monster Calls. Knowing it was based on a children’s book, my expectations were for something less adult than what unfolded on the screen. We follow 12-year-old Conor (Lewis McDougall) as he struggles to cope with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness. Conor has a passion for drawing and an active imagination. His imagination conjures up The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) which comes to life from a giant tree in the middle of the cemetery at the top of the hill near his house. The Monster tells Conor stories which come to life from animated segments narrated by The Monster with commentary from young Conor who fails to find the wisdom in The Monster’s tales.
As the film progresses, the overcrowded plot becomes clearer and the lessons bestowed by The Monster make more sense as Conor tries to talk his dad (Toby Kebbell) who he wants to go back to America with so he doesn’t have to live with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). Grandma is tough on Conor as both silently struggle with Conor’s mother’s likely terminal illness.
It isn’t until the third act that The Monster’s intentions become clear and Conor’s emotional challenges in dealing with his mother’s illness are heartbreakingly obvious. The relationship between Conor and The Monster becomes less of an imaginary distraction and more of his own grief counselor. The accompanying visuals are mesmerizing throughout and as the inevitable grows closer, it’s hard to not get caught up in this real tearjerker. Although the visuals might impress younger viewers, the serious nature of the film might only appeal to an older youth, especially as the film reaches it’s darkest moments in the last act.
Ideally, a movie shouldn’t take over an hour to become coherent. Unfortunately, that’s something that plagues A Monster Calls. However, the third act is so good, it makes up for a lot of the film’s earlier shortcomings. The movie also has those great visuals which helps compensate further. This helps A Monster Calls be better than average although more uneven than you’d like. However, when one is dealing with grief at the level of our main character, maybe uneven was the goal.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Look of The Monster
The Monster looks amazing and director J.A. Bayona and his visual crew does an excellent job of bringing The Monster to life.
- The Adult Cast
The cast surrounding McDougall never overshadows his performance but instead compliment his rather complex emotional turn.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Very Reminiscent of The NeverEnding Story
In 1984, The NeverEnding Story graced theaters with its presence and delivered a favorite of my youth. Frequently, the theme and way the story unfolds parallels moments in The NeverEnding Story and it would be unsurprising to find out that the children’s book A Monster Calls is based on was influenced by the movie from over three decades ago. The only problem is The NeverEnding Story was just a little bit better than A Monster Calls as it seems to know its audience a little better.