Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Monster Calls (2016)

rating: ****

the story: A boy struggles to handle his mother's battle with cancer, and finds an unlikely ally in a monster.

what it's all about: Full disclosure: my mother died of cancer two years ago.  Therefore, it's incredibly difficult to separate A Monster Calls from what is still an incredibly painful recent personal experience. 

That being said, this is powerful storytelling.  I'd read the book upon which it's based, and though the movie streamlines the narrative, omitting a key character and thus subplot, it packs the same wallop.  The marriage of reality and fantasy is uniquely executed, if anything comparable to the comic strip Calvin + Hobbes, where the two exist side-by-side, so that both are equally true.  The monster is ostensibly the big draw of the movie, but he exists in shadows and so almost completely in the vocal performance of Liam Neeson (admittedly a huge selling point), and so viewers who anticipate a more visceral presentation there will probably end up disappointed, and as such is probably the reason the movie didn't land as successfully upon initial release as critics had anticipated.

And it's a tough emotional experience, too.  It comes on so unexpectedly, Felicity Jones as the mother a supporting character, leaving all the weight on a boy whose journey becomes more apparent as the movie progresses, his need to be "punished" for his reaction to the idea of battling cancer.  Sigourney Weaver is equally subdued as the grandmother, while Toby Kebbell (this is the movie I finally noticed that he's been in quite a few of the movies I've seen lately) as the father who lives a new life in America, a scenario that in another story might have dragged the proceedings down in maudlin fashion, strikes the right tone as the one character most capable of addressing the boy's distress. 

It's the completeness of the portrait (ironic, given the prior acknowledgment that the movie leaves out a crucial element from the book) that helps everything build.  I think it works, I think it's powerful stuff, some truly classic filmmaking, but...

Doubt must linger.  I don't know what it's like to watch A Monster Calls without it being a personal experience.  Is everything truly earned, or am I reading myself into it?  True, this is a problem with every movie, but this one, it seems far more obvious.  So I leave the final review as an open subject.

But I absolutely recommend you check it out to see for yourself.


  1. I haven't seen this yet, but now I really want to. I saw some clips at a conference last year and it didn't grab me, so I skipped it at the movies. Maybe I shouldn't have.

    1. It's a mood piece, not the kind of blockbuster feel you might typically associate with a monster running around. Hard to really figure out, or try to, without seeing the whole thing.