Quick Hit: Visually inventive and lovingly crafted, this will have you reaching for the Kleenex before the night is done.
There are quite a few movies out there that are purposely made to tug at your tear strings. For those of us that have watched way too many movies, this is both expected and a bit dreaded. At times you almost end up desensitized due to the emotional manipulation. That’s why it’s both a bit disconcerting and extremely welcome when a film can manipulate your emotions and pull those tears down your face, despite the desensitizing. I’m looking at films like Manchester by the Sea and today’s film, A Monster Calls.
A Monster Calls stars Lewis MacDougall as Conor. Conor is a young boy who acts out and is a bit different, usually being picked on. But it’s Conor’s home life that is the toughest, with his mother (Felicity Jones) and Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) constantly arguing around him. It’s not hard to see why, because his mother is sick, and his father (Toby Kebbell) is absent in America. What struck me first is Conor is the only character that is a given a name, with everyone else referred only to their role in Conor’s life. The movie revolves around him, and it’s much better for it.
One night, a monster (voiced terrifically by Liam Neeson) appears, one that is a living anthromorphication of the yew tree in Conor’s backyard. He states that he is there to heal, and proceeds to tell Conor three stories. The stories are the visual highlight of the film, though the animation of the monster is visually thrilling as well. Each story has its own moral, sure, but each is done in a way that essentially brings handwritten and hand painted water colors to life. It’s so different from the way things are normally projected that it’s like a breath of fresh air each time it comes on screen.
The acting is terrific. The star studded cast all pick their moment to dominate the screen, with truly wonderful supporting roles. All of their performances help to highlight young Lewis MacDougall, who’s acting grounds a very difficult role. It’s these performances that make the emotional turn that much more effective, because this moving is consistently turning the screws as it builds to the inevitable conclusion. But it’s a beautiful and healthy conclusion, and a real conclusion. Despite the fact that it’s obvious camera angles and lines of dialogue have been crafted in order to extract tears, it’s really effective, to the point that I was ugly crying on the couch in my basement.
Overall, I really liked this film. Marketed primarily as a family film, I don’t think it got the coverage that it should have. But films about loss rarely do, and so I think this is an underrated gem. I’m giving this film an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"