Grief is a terrible thing to experience, even though we all go through it at some point in life. Grief is one of the major themes explored in A Monster Calls, based on the novel by Patrick Ness, from the original idea of Siobhan Dowd. The film follows a 12-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley in present day England, dealing with his mother going through cancer. During the night he’s visited by a monster who tells him three stories, with a fourth needing to be told by Conor. Here are my thoughts of the film in a spoiler free review.
From the opening scene, A Monster Calls, feels like a dark fairy tale, more in line with the original stories from The Brothers Grimm. Conor, played by Lewis MacDougall, gives a vulnerable and heart-wrenching performance of a boy who wants his mum to survive. He’s a boy who keeps his rage and hurt on the inside, even when he’s being bullied at school. As someone who suffered bullying from a young age, I felt connected to Conor because I know what it’s like to be made to feel like you’re inadequate.
The Monster is voiced by Liam Neeson, who has all the gruffness and booming tones you’d expect from an ancient creature made from trees. Neeson is able to be intimidating one moment and fatherly the next. The Monster is wonderfully rendered, whether its branches are growing or its eyes are flaring with anger. Neeson’s gruff wisdom is the perfect counterpoint to MacDougall’s raw and emotional delivery.
The three stories told by The Monster include a prince and a queen, an apothacary and a parson, and an invisible man. The stories are told through an artistic style of animation that seems like colours being slapped onto a blank canvas. The animation splatters and pops with complex tales that give insight into human nature.
Away from the fantasy elements, the every day grind of life is presented with sombre moments, punctuated by realists such as Conor’s grandmother, played by Sigourney Weaver. She’s excellent at showing a woman who is strong on the surface, wanting to do what’s best for her family, but is unable to connect with Conor.
As the film progresses, we see Conor change with The Monster’s influence. There’s a dream-like quality to every action, and the viewer is never completely sure if what they are seeing is real.
A Monster Calls is an emotional film that highlights family, loss and hope. Healing pain is never easy, but there are certain people and certain moments that allow us to move beyond our grief. That is the message I took away from the film, so it would be interesting to hear what others think.