A Monster Calls

 photo monster_calls_zpspvrtiqu5.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgA Monster Calls establishes its narrative with a question. The deep intonations of Liam Neeson articulate “How does the story begin? It begins like so many stories. With a boy. Too old to be a kid. Too young to be a man. And a nightmare.” If I may paraphrase that preface, this movie is too esoteric for a kid and too jejune for an adult.

A Monster Calls is a dark fantasy about Conor O’Malley, a 13-year-old boy who is struggling to come terms with his mother’s illness. She has cancer. At just after midnight, Conor is visited by a large tree-like beast who tells him stories. He helps him cope. If this all feels a bit familiar, it’s because the bond between a boy and a fantastical creature has been a recurring theme in the cinema as of late (The BFG, Pete’s Dragon) This film is an adaptation from director J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) of the award-winning novel by Patrick Ness.

The chronicle is essentially structured around the three “true” stories told by the giant tree creature. Following these tales, Conor has been instructed to tell a fable himself – the truth behind his own personal ordeal. The way the first two parables are illustrated exemplifies the best thing about the feature. As the monster speaks, his words are brought to life by sequences from Barcelona based animation studio Headless Productions. The luscious textures of watercolor drawings give fervid life to yarns that would have only been merely respectable on their own. The dazzling graphics are so hypnotic, I found myself dreaming about an entire movie done in this aesthetic. I was mesmerized. However, by the third account, artistic images gives way to real life. He is beset by bullies. Heavy handed narration informs us of the “invisible” man that Connor has become. Joy and wonder give way to a lesson of schooling and reproach.

It can’t be easy acting alongside a giant tree creature, but young actor Lewis MacDougall makes it look completely natural in A Monster Calls. The two have an allure that makes their friendship an undeniable delight. Too bad the rest of the ensemble doesn’t inspire the same enthusiasm. Felicity Jones is great – if being a beatific presence over which to grieve is how we measure her achievement. Sigourney Weaver is an odd choice as an icy British grandma. It appears to be more stunt casting than a decision based on the demands of the character. She is appropriately aloof and cold but not an individual we wish to be around. His father (Toby Kebbell ) lives in the U.S. and seems detached from his son. Kebbell (Control, RocknRolla) is a charismatic actor, but all I could think while watching him here is, why aren’t you more interesting?

Who is the audience for this picture? Maybe fantasy fanatics who want to recall their childhood or perhaps anyone who has gone trough a similarly traumatic experience and can identify with this young protagonist. A Monster Calls is artifice fabricated from gorgeous components. The CGI, the musical score, the animated tales are all beautifully put together. It is a visually inventive production. There’s so much to recommend initially that it makes the ultimate denouement such a crushing disappointment., The hackneyed and commonplace ending doesn’t justify all that came before it. We get the tear-jerky finale that we’ve been promised but it feels forced. I was indifferent. It goes through the motions of a sad ending, but we’re missing the humanity.

12-06-16

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12 Responses to “A Monster Calls”

  1. Wanted this to be so much better. The cartoons were pretty awesome. I agree, the ending was disappointing. I got a little teary eyed, but hoped for a better emotional conclusion. 3 stars

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Interesting. I have a different take but I guess I can see where you are coming from. I was moved by it. My only problem with it was I felt it was a bit manipulative in way it tried to force emotion from me but I went with it for the most part. I didn’t like Sigourney Weaver and I’ve never been that high on Felicity Jones but she was ok here. I loved the animation and the way they worked the stories in. I thought it was cool and creative with big heart. I think it is just about as good a job as can be done with the book, which I also liked. I’d give it 3.5/5

    And yes I cried but I’m an easy cry

    • Hmm, I didn’t find it manipulative because I felt nothing. In fact, my friend loved this because he felt it didn’t rely on “sentimentality”. We do agree on the quality of the animation. Loved that.

  3. Ah man this is disappointing to read. Unfortunately yours is not the first that hasn’t been too enthusiastic about A Monster Calls. Still reckon I will check it out though next Tuesday for $6 night

    • Even though I didn’t enjoy it much, somewhat surprised by its shockingly bad box office performance. This cost $43 million to make and only earned $3 million…in the U.S. anyway. A Monster Calls is a monster flop.

      • Holy cow. Well that explains why it only has two showtimes every day haha. I skipped it yesterday in favor of Patriots Day. I wish I didn’t do that.

  4. How sad that a script calling for a monster in your plot would be uninteresting.

  5. “Too esoteric for a kid and too jejune for an adult.” – I got that impression from the movie’s trailer. It seemed like a film confused about what genre it should belong in or the audience it should be reaching. The style of animation sounds captivating, but it’s a bummer to hear that aside from the lead that other performances don’t manage to pull you in. Normally I like Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell.

    • It’s a dramatic fantasy. The genre is consistent throughout but the intended audience is indeed perplexing. The novel was written for children so I have to assume this was meant for them as well.

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