BY ROGER THOMAS
The title of this review poses a question. I was basically asking whether you prefer traditional films that tell traditional stories, or do you also enjoy a challenge? It is not a big challenge, but “A Monster Calls” is something unique. It is also very powerful, especially once you learn what the story is truly about. But I will reveal none of that here.
This film is about a child named Conor. His life is changing and he needs help navigating through the new reality that exists even while he is still striving to understand why his life has to change. Conor is played be Lewis MacDougall who starred in the film “Pan” in 2015. In “Monster Calls” MacDougall carries the weight of the film and gives an authentic performance.
Those closest to Conor are played by Felicity Jones as Conor’s Mum, Toby Kebbell as Dad and Sigourney Weaver as Grandma. The only other prominent player in this story is voiced by Liam Neeson; the character is called simply, The Monster.
I should clarify however, though the film has “Monster” in the title, and there is a Monster in the film, it is not a horror movie. It is more of a fairytale with action and wisdom, plus some deep emotions as well. I would, however, offer to parents of younger children, there are some frightening sequences and some material that would be disturbing or confusing for children under seven.
With all that said, allow me to tell you what I liked about the film. First, the film looks exquisite. There are many shots that include special effects and sometimes animation and all of it is brilliant. I would like to see the film again just for the visuals. If you have caught a trailer on television or on the internet, do not dismiss the film, or wait for the video release. See it on the big screen, it deserves that venue.
Another strength of the film are the small stories that are told within the overarching story of Conor. The Monster shares those with Conor. Each story has a lesson for the young boy, and each has a clever twist.
Then there is the grander story of the whole film. What is really going on in Conor’s life? Why is the monster offering him morality tales? Why does Conor do what he does and what is the Monster seeking to teach him ultimately?
I admit that I was a skeptic. The first trailer did not win me over. After seeing the preview several times, I thought I knew everything that was there, and my curiosity was waning. And then I saw the film, and everything became different. I cannot imagine that there are many people who would not find a moment in this film that inspires memories. Not all the memories might be good, but bad or sad memories often teach and inspire us more than those that give us a smile. Besides, as I heard someone say years ago, “When we cry at the cinema, we are not crying for the actors on the screen, but rather we are moved because something in the film reminded us of our past, churned our emotions, or revealed to us a new truth.”
The film, and the novel it is based on, is not necessarily a religious text as far as I know, but I see many applications of this film for conversations about faith.
Sometimes life is hard, and for many of us, we find comfort and strength knowing that there is a presence with us. Conor’s monster told fables; the presence in my life taught with parables and he continues to “call” all His children.
Earlier this year we had the giant in “The BFG.” Of the two, I would rather repeat my visit with a Monster.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.