At first glance, A Monster Calls appeared to me a sentimental fantasy film about the charming friendship between a boy and a fantastical monster. And honestly, if it weren’t for the incredible animation, I probably never would have watched it. But I’m glad that I did.
Because what A Monster Calls really is, is a heart-rending and compelling story about coping with grief and learning to let go. It stars Lewis MacDougall as 12-year-old Conor, a creative young boy caught between school bullies, an indifferent grandmother and his mother’s terminal illness. It is only when he begins to realise that he may be losing his mother – the only person he has to turn to – that he finds an unlikely friend in the Monster (Liam Neeson).
MacDougall shows a remarkable sensibility for his age and is a remarkable talent, a real credit to the film. He tackles some truly difficult subjects and handles them with incredible maturity, resulting in a thoroughly believable and raw performance. But I think what strikes viewers the most is the woeful honesty that he brings out of the character. And this is not only down to MacDougall’s impressive acting, but also the astonishing writing of Patrick Ness.
Having never read the novel, I can’t compare how it translates to the screen. However, as a movie the story is flawlessly carried through, with moments of unbelievable tension and some very poignant scenes. Although the writing has been said to be too dark by some, to take that away would remove the rare honesty that these scenes give. And overall, the message of the film is one that, although not altogether lighthearted, is powerful. But where it falls in terms of recommended audience is difficult to distinguish. Too dark for younger audiences and perhaps too rooted in fantasy for adults, it falls in a strange in-between.
What it is, however, is an extremely tough watch at times. Although there are some heartwarming and charming moments, the overall themes of the film are a lot more sensitive than they first appear. And while it is a highly recommendable film – despite its lack of huge success – it is still to be viewed with discretion.
Having said this, A Monster Calls is a stunningly beautiful film. It shows us familiar relationships, problems and hardships through a unique friendship and a world of fantastical stories. It is emotionally charged and in many ways inspiring.