A Monster Calls  From director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) comes an uncommon take on the coming-of-age story, in which a young boy struggles through strained relationships with his father and grandmother, an onslaught of bullying at school, and most importantly, the gradual decline of his mother’s health. As all of this begins to weigh heavier, his pleas for help are answered in the form of a gargantuan monster, born from the yew tree that stands visible from the boy’s window. A Monster Calls stars Lewis MacDougall as the young protagonist Conor, Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) as the voice of the monster. The film is based on the novel by Patrick Ness, who also penned the screenplay.
Youth of Contemporary Film: The subgenre of coming-of-age tales has become crowded in recent years, with many films boasting quick fire dialogue, while appealing to contemporary indie filmgoers. A Monster Calls may yet appeal to the latter demographic but avoids cornering itself into the stylistic approaches taken by other films of similar subject matter. Instead, that witty humorous dialogue is traded in favor of a quieter protagonist and dialogue that is weighty and perhaps, at times, heavy-handed. The film may not always have confidence in its audience’s ability to understand the themes, but it’s difficult to deny the poignancy of the execution. These characters feel true and less like caricatures of what their respective roles should be.
Fantasy can feel real: It is strange that a film so entwined in its fantastical elements can feel so relatable and intelligent in its storytelling, but that is exactly the task that A Monster Calls manages to accomplish. It feels as if, in whatever way it may be, Patrick Ness speaks from an experienced heart and a genuine investment in the emotional journeys of his characters. Conor feels like a real child, played adeptly by young MacDougall. A Monster Calls draws parallels to 2015’s Inside Out, in its themes of sadness, youth, and isolation. However, as this film is aimed more at older children, it is allowed more leeway in exploring the darker urges a child may feel under immense emotional stress.
Realism and Optimism: Glum though it may be, A Monster Calls is far from being thoroughly depressing. Through camera manipulation and melodramatic musical cues, we see much of the story unfold from the perspective of Conor. Thus, as it does for Conor, the voice of Liam Neeson shines out of the dark as not only dramatically effective, but mercifully warm and comforting. Indeed, it may even be a bittersweet experience for anyone who went through emotional hardship in their youth. What if only we had the soothing tones of Liam Neeson and the tales he weaves to guide us to the light? There is an optimism to A Monster Calls; a reminder that though these trials are and will be difficult, we all have to find ways to cope. Even destructive urges are not abnormal under certain circumstances, and on this and many other points, A Monster Calls may prove therapeutic to some in its handling of a pained heart.
When the credits rolled for A Monster Calls, I was in tears… more tears than any film I saw in 2016. While it can lay its themes on a little heavy, there is still a refreshing air of mystery within the narrative. The performances flourish in a sometimes sad movie that nonetheless left a smile on my face (albeit one glimmering with a generous amount of my own tears). It may not be the film for smaller kids, but for teenagers and adults, it is a great story about youth and the grief that sometimes accompanies it.
A Monster Calls is deliberately paced, but uniquely moving in its telling. Even if it hammers the points home a bit hard sometimes, it is hard to deny the intelligent themes in a coming-of-age film that is both visually stunning and heart-achingly poignant.