I knew heading in to see A Monster Calls that it was a tear jerker. I also figured that it was not a horror movie, in any way. I had no idea how much of a tearjerker it was. When the woman next to me broke out sobbing and then I saw my wife and son were both crying as well, I lost it. Seriously, this movie expertly pulls the heartstrings and then rips them completely out of your chest.
A Monster Calls is based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness. The source is a children’s book that features a young boy who deals with the fact that his mother has terminal cancer. The actual idea was from Siobhan Dowd, a British writer who came up with the story while she was undergoing treatment for terminal cancer. She died before she could write the book and Ness took the idea and wrote it himself, with illustrations by Jim Kay.
The book is about a 13-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley who is visited each night by a monster who tells him three stories. The monster then tells Conor that he must tell him the fourth story of he will eat the child. The movie follows the same plot and all three of the stories that the monster tells in the book are faithfully recreated in the movie.
I have heard some complaints that the stories were not connected to the main story but anyone who doesn’t see the connections wasn’t paying attention – or they are just incapable of reading the actual meaning of the stories. That is ironic because Conor admitted in the film that the stories made no sense to him, looking at them as a child engulfed in the tragedy of his own personal story.
However, the stories were deeply meaningful as parables that paralleled the life of young Conor O’Malley.
Conor (Lewis MacDougall) lives with his mother (Felicity Jones) and has taken great care of her as she battles terminal cancer. However, by the time the movie starts, it is clear that things are starting to speed up when it comes to cancer ravaging her body. The love between the mother and son is clear throughout the movie, and that is all Conor has to live for. He has a strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who he can’t stand to be around. He has an absentee father (Toby Kebbell) who is more interested in his new family. He has a bully at school (James Melville) who torments him every day.
And his mother is dying of cancer.
It is more than a child should ever have to live through.
That is when the Monster visits him for the first time. Created from a Yew Tree, the Monster informs Conor that it is there to help him but if Conor does not tell the Monster a story at the end, it will eat him. Before Conor has to tell the story of his worst nightmares, the Monster tells Conor three stories, all parables that the Monster claims are true and that it witnessed personally in the past. The most interesting thing about the three stories is that the lesson learned is that there is no good and bad, there are only events that structure a person’s life and the time in which they live in.
The stories themselves are amazingly told. The first two are especially striking, using animation which pays tribute to the fact that both Conor and his mother were artists who loved to draw monsters. The animation is simple, yet striking and colorful and the ink splattered transitions were amazing. The third story is just told through action and the fourth is a true nightmare scene. The CG work on this movie was just spot-on for the subject matter and was very well done.
Director J.A. Bayona proved to be an amazing visionary with his horror movie The Orphanage and proved he could do family drama with The Impossible. Here, he put it all together and looks to have a very bright future ahead of him. I am now more excited about the fifth movie in the Jurassic Park series than I ever was before.
There are a lot of movies about terminal illness and cancer and almost all these movies slam a viewer over the head with the lessons that must be learned. While some may feel the same about A Monster Calls, I disagree with that assessment here. The entire lesson learned is that there is not always a lesson to be learned and the hardest thing – and simplest solution – is to just let go and accept the inevitable. You are wasting what little time is left by fighting the inevitable when the true joy should be spent loving those close to you while you still can.
The acting is great, and Lewis MacDougall carried a very difficult role in impressive style. The movie is devastatingly heartbreaking and I was never once taken out of it by the acting of a new young child actor. The special effects, the look of the monster, and the story sequences were perfectly executed and this movie really played out well and had most of the audience in the theater I was in breaking down in tears by the end, a truly satisfying result for the filmmakers.
It should be noted that the themes of this movie are very dark for young children. As I said, my seven-year-old was crying at the end and it might be a little much for many kids. With that said, this movie is very affecting and one of the best tearjerkers I have seen in a long time. The acting and effects are solid, the directing is masterful, and the story is both heart wrenching and affirming at the same time. I seriously can’t recommend this movie enough.