Sometimes the joy of going to a movie is being surprised. I have had that pleasure of being surprised a number of times in my life. Most of the time I’m not, and yet I’ll still enjoy what it is that I’m watching. But to actually go into a movie house, expecting something in particular, and to be given something else, something different and better, is magical. A Monster Calls is that movie.
This is a film primarily filmed in the UK, with a primarily British cast. The movie stars Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as a single mother battling cancer. There is also her ex-husband played by Toby Kebbell (Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four), and the one American standout is Sigourney Weaver, playing the very emotionally distant Grandmother. There is also the title character voiced by Liam Neeson (The Chronicles of Narnia), but the one to really look at in this film is Lewis MacDougall, playing the young son Conor.
The title of this film is at the very heart of this beautiful story. Young Conor is trying to emotionally deal with his mother’s very severe illness, while at the same time having to endure some truly horrific bullying by other students at the school he attends, but there is more. He is being psychologically and emotionally tortured, and in his darkest time, a monster (that looks very much like a cross between Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot, and Treebeard from The Lord Of The Rings) comes to visit and talk with him in the hopes of imparting some much needed wisdom, and possibly even healing.
When I first heard of this movie my initial thought was that this would be a modern day version of All Monsters Attack (also known in the US as Godzilla’s Revenge), which was about a boy who lived only with his single mother, and was bullied all the time. It was through his world of fantasy where he was present to watch Godzilla, and his offspring Minilla, fight off other monsters that the boy learned to stand up for himself.
Yes, that’s what I thought this movie was going to be. I was surprised. This movie is so much more, and it all hinges on the unbelievably brilliant performance of young MacDougall as the tortured Conor. While the other acting performances are extremely solid (especially from Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver), what MacDougall gives is nothing short of sheer genius. For an actor of his age to capture all of the emotional turmoil someone that young must feel is unheard of. A pre-teenager doesn’t have the emotional maturity or psychological development to adequately process the tragedy this character is going through, and yet MacDougall shows what they do go through without reducing his character into anything less than fully realized. He displays a complete spectrum of emotional range, and yet it is always organic to the story. Never does he overplay, or underplay a scene. His actions and reactions are absolutely perfect, and on more than one occasion he delivers a performance that had virtually the entire audience on the verge of sobbing.
When the movie ended I found myself grasping for something to say about it without having to rely on generalities like, “It’s beautiful,” or “I loved it.” This movie is so much more. It’s not just a fantasy. This is truly an art film, and as such does somewhat defy description. There are many times when the analytical part of the brain thinks, “I have this movie figured out now!” only to be given a new little scene that throws any pre-conceived conclusions into the wind. Even after the movie is over, questions are raised as to both the true nature of the monster, and how he visited young Conor. Those are wonderful questions, and what is even more wonderful is that they do not require any answers. The beauty of this film comes from each viewer coming to his or her own conclusion. This is a highly subjective piece of work, but with tones and story ideas that would resonate on some level with anyone who isn’t made of stone.
I absolutely loved this film, and I would even go so far as to regard it as perfect. Even the scenes that are very uncomfortable to watch, and there are several, are there for all the right reasons, and are there to show us how important it is that we be there for the young people who are forced to confront tragedies in their lives. What’s more, this is a movie about healing. The monster is something of a Healing Tree, and by the time the end credits begin to roll it’s not just Conor who has been healed, but everyone sitting in the theater as well.
Special thanks go out to Fingerpaint Marketing for providing the screening for this film. A Monster Calls is produced by Apaches Entertainment, La Trini, Participant Media, River Road Entertainment, and will be released in theaters on January 6, 2017.
On a scale of A (Excellent) to F (Fail) this movie gets an A+.
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