Review: 'A Monster Calls' Is Surprisingly Fantastic

Samuel Kaufman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
A Monster Calls does the impossible – it is star-studded, has gorgeous SFX, is based on a YA novel, and still manages to be touching, grounded, and emotional. One of the main characters is essentially the same size as Optimus Prime, but unlike the leader of the Autobots, the giant in this movie (voiced by Liam Neeson) is just as well rounded and interesting as his human counterparts. The film follows a 13-year-old boy named Conor who lives in England with his ailing mother.
One night, at 12:07 AM, the yew tree in the cemetery across from Conor’s bedroom window comes to life and tells Conor that he is going to tell the boy three stories and in return, Conor will tell him “his truth.” Yeah, it’s just about as bonkers as that sounds. The film is by no means realistic, but does a great job staying believable within the parameters of the world it has set up. The film masterfully avoids the pitfalls and traps of the low fantasy genre, mostly by never directly addressing how strange everything is. There are no obvious audience surrogates or lengthy monologues about why this all makes sense scientifically – there is a tree that just becomes a monster, it’s accepted throughout the rest of the movie without skipping a beat.

Lewis MacDougall and Felicity Jones in A Monster Calls. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
The visuals really are magical. From the gorgeous water color photography during the storytelling sequences to the seamless special effects of the monster, the visuals of this film never cease to amaze. Even when nothing supernatural is happening, exceptional macro photography and clever editing are present as a constant reminder that the director knows what he’s doing.
Something else that A Monster Calls accomplishes seamlessly is not shying away from scary things while still being fundamentally kid-friendly. This movie is unafraid of including scary imagery and real peril for the main character. Additionally, it does not shy away from real adult topics ranging from terminal illnesses to divorce without using “kiddy-gloves” or providing an easy way out.
A Monster Calls. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
The acting is exceptional in A Monster Calls, especially from newcomer Lewis MacDougall. MacDougall is barely a teenager, and has to go to places with this character that many adults wouldn’t be comfortable with. Additionally, Felicity Jones does a great job as Conor’s mother, earning additional points for looking realistically like someone with a terminal illness. Liam Neeson shines as The Monster, and Sigourney Weaver works wonders with her character of Conor’s grandmother, giving life and three-dimensionality to a character who could so easily be just one-note and unlikable. It’s hard to know who is directly responsible for this, but the writer (Patrick Ness), director (J.A. Bayona), and all actors deserve credit for every single character being both sympathetic and deeply flawed at the same time. This drives home one of the main themes of the movie, that no one is all of the way good or all of the way evil.
A Monster Calls is a coming of age movie that doesn’t pull punches. It’s the plot of an indie sweetheart with the visuals of a Zack Snyder movie. It’s wonderful, and you should see it immediately.
Overall Grade: A
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