Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver
12-year-old Conor (MacDougall) must deal with the fact his mother (Jones) is terminally ill, as well as a particularly unsympathetic grandmother and being bullied at school. Conor finds an unlikely ally in the form of a giant yew tree that comes alive and guides him on a journey of courage, faith and truth to help him deal with the problems in his life.
Spanish director J.A. Bayona of course brought us the wonderful adult fairy tale that was The Orphanage, and goes back to familiar territory with A Monster Calls; a film about a child made through the eyes and mindset of a child, but a film made with an intelligence and maturity that means it will also resonate with audiences of all ages as it examines some very pertinent, relatable and deeply poignant themes.
We all have very clear memories of our childhood and can recall how we saw the world as a child, and though we sometimes wish that we could go back to having that seemingly innocent and naïve ideology before we had to grow up and realise just how cruel and unforgiving the real world can be, there are certain ways we saw the world as a child or certain experiences that we had that we will never forget. Well, A Monster Calls certainly touches a pertinent chord with regards to that, as though we may have never had to experience exactly what Conor does within the narrative, there are still so many themes examined by the narrative as a whole that it is impossible for this film not be a deeply emotional and engaging experience.
There is one key theme at the centre of the narrative, and that is of grief and dealing with the loss of a loved one, and the internal conflict this can produce, especially in the mind of one so young, but these are the thoughts that would enter the mind of an adult too. The reason why A Monster Calls is such an emotionally engaging film is just how skilfully it depicts this key theme that it examines.
This is a film that will not only resonate with anyone that has lost someone close to them (at any age), but also anyone that has felt like an isolated and lonely outsider that feels underappreciated, and in the case of Conor, invisible. Conor is a very creative child and also a total loner, he is also from a broken family and is bullied at school. Though this may sound like a lazy cliché, the narrative skilfully avoids being overly clichéd to produce a protagonist that we can truly relate to, and these aspects of the narrative are never over-emphasised, but just enhance our emotional engagement with him, as his actions do unfortunately have repercussions in the real world, often bringing about a further feeling of injustice.
As the narrative develops, its core themes become increasingly clear, but they are developed in a purposefully methodical way by Patrick Ness’ screenplay (adapted from his own novel) and so nothing is ever overemphasised or patronising or unnecessarily over-schmaltzy. This all brings an incredibly emotional and satisfying ending that will leave not a single dry eye in the cinema on the faces of both children and adults.
An emotionally engaging and deeply haunting visual depiction of experiencing the world through the eyes of a child that will live long in the memory of all adult viewers; A Monster Calls is a deeply emotional and unforgettable triumph in filmmaking.