This is a traditional monster movie, a straight-up genre flick. They were certainly taken aback by “A Monster Calls.” In this A Monster Calls Review, I will show you a full review and film summary.
Many people appear to have assumed, maybe because of the title and the fact that director J.A. Bayona directed “The Orphanage,” that this is a straight-up genre picture, a traditional monster movie. They were taken aback by “A Monster Calls,” which is a symbolic tale of infancy, illness, death, and sadness. And an often moving film.
“A Monster Calls,” based on a novel by Patrick Ness, who also created the screenplay (the book was originally conceived as a concept by the late writer Siobhan Dowd, who is also credited in the film), transports viewers to the ramshackle British family of young Conor and his nameless mother. Their house overlooks a church and graveyard that appear to be guarded by a massive yew tree. Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a restless, introverted, tormented adolescent who is an enthusiastic daydreamer, artist, and inchoate monster-movie fan, dreams one night of the tree bursting apart and producing a colossal man of wood.
Tree-men and other such characters have deep roots (sorry) in Anglo mythology, but the monster who invades Conor’s dreams—whose insides are animated by terrible, never-ebbing flames—belongs only to Conor. The monster informs Conor, in threatening tones delivered by Liam Neeson, that he will come to him to tell him three stories. When the monster’s stories are finished, he will take leadership over Conor the kid’s own story, as well as a final attendant reality that only Conor can define.
Even under the best of conditions, this issue appears difficult. Of course, the film recognizes that even under the finest of conditions, the incident would not happen. Felicity Jones, who plays Conor’s mother, a young woman herself, is very ill and has been for some time. She was a former artist who put her goals on hold when Conor was born. Toby Kebbell, the boy’s father, now leads a completely different life in Los Angeles. Conor’s grandma (Sigourney Weaver) is a harsh, frightening person who appears to be completely unpleasant at first. We don’t know it at first, but we suspect it: all of Conor’s grownups, no matter how well-intentioned, are lying to him. His visits from his tree for assisting him in dealing with this, albeit in a roundabout way.
When the monster calls, his tendrils wrap around the furnishings in Conor’s chamber, and these tendrils appear to grab the youngster while the monster relates legends of kings and queens that end in a frustrating paradox, perplexing Conor. The youngster and his adored mother enjoy a 16mm print of the 1933 “King Kong,” with Mom informing Conor that was a favorite of his late grandfather, who was the only person who could make Grandma laugh. These carelessly mentioned bits of history become vital as the film delves more and deeper into the reality of Conor’s circumstance and the parables of the extraordinary character who, despite Conor’s vehement opposition, helps him deal with that situation.
This is an uncommon image, whether viewed as an adult or a teen, yet it is not unprecedented. It has some true parallels with the underappreciated 1986 film “Labyrinth,” in which Jennifer Connelly faced an impending transition from girlhood to adulthood through a magical realm controlled by an elfin David Bowie. A detailed analysis of the protagonists’ family portraits in that film, as in this one, gives important indications as to what’s “actually” going on. However, “A Monster Calls” puts its young protagonist through a considerably more difficult transition process, and as a result, the visions and problems are more heartbreaking and horrifying.
While the huge tree monster—in many moments a true animatronic construct in the “Kong” tradition—is a fearsome, stunning effect, and the design and animation of his tales are first-rate, there are also sections of the film that are frenetically over-directed. Bayona is a great artist, and he isn’t seeking to confuse his viewers in the way that Michael Bay is, but there are occasions when he tries to do too much at once. There are also several speed bumps in the plot. Too many films showing bullying among young people nowadays rely on a rather sloppy audience-pleasing gimmick.
That is, to make the victim so enraged that he simply cannot take it anymore and delivers the bully a solid walloping. Never mind that this isn’t how things work in real life, but the scenario contradicts the concept the tree monster tries to instill in Conor. The fact that the buildup to the showdown involves some strange probable gay-panic tension muddies the waters rather than enriches them. (The aftermath of the tragedy, on the other hand, provides Bayona with the chance to include the great Geraldine Chaplin in a cameo part, which is nice.)
However, once “A Monster Calls” reaches its harrowing finale and the revelation of Conor’s “truth,” it becomes both heartbreaking and philosophically challenging. If you’ve seen any of Bayona’s other films, you’ll know that the film is visually stunning, but it does so when you least expect it. A conversation between Conor and his grandmother on a rainy drive to the hospital is framed in beautiful autumnal running colors outside their car windows (the director of photography is scar Faura, who has worked with Bayona on all his features); it’s not only visually stunning but emotionally consonant and resonant.
Despite its flaws, there are aspects of this picture that are difficult to shake; after all, the film’s final wisdom and overwhelming compassion make it unlikely that you will want to shake them.