When I was invited to screen the new film A Monster Calls, I knew very little about it. As the film started, I worried for a moment that I was out of my element in viewing the film. After all, I’m not a fan of horror movies and given its name, clearly I was in for something in that category.
I was both right and wrong. A Monster Calls is a beautiful story that does its have its share of monsters, one in particular, but more importantly, it’s about a boy and his mom. She’s dying of cancer, and he left to pick up the pieces, as he realizes there is nothing he can do to keep her on this earth. As both a mom of a child a similar age to the main character, as well as a cancer survivor, I was on the edge of my seat during the film at every waking moment, with tears streaming down my face. It was a combination of the storytelling, acting and filmmaking that somehow tied all the pieces of a broken heart together. There was a relatability factor for me with this film unlike no other in a long time.
Adapted by Patrick Ness from his book based on an idea by his late author friend Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls is the story of a young boy named Conor O’Malley, played by a breakout star Lewis MacDougall (honestly, his career will never be the same again), who is having a tough time. Plagued by nightmares, he’s being bullied in school and his mother, played by the extraordinary Felicity Jones, is dying of cancer, which forces him to move in with his grandmother, played by Sigourney Weaver, who has very strict rules that just make things tougher for the lad. One night, the giant tree that overlooks a distant church cemetery comes to life and offers Conor three stories in exchange for one of his own. Liam Neeson is the voice of the tree, and his commanding yet gentle impression brings the tree almost to human form. The tales he tells help Conor learn to deal with his slowly deteriorating life, from his mother’s illness to standing up to his school bully with much moral ambiguity. These bring a gloomy yet fantastical element to his sadness.
The acting in this film is exquisite. MacDougall needs do nothing more than look at the camera with his sad, explaining eyes, that tortured my soul, as it brought to light how hard his characters’s life is. Weaver and Neeson, two screen legends, offer a wealth of experience and emotion that helps take the story to its finish line, and what a finish it has. The last scene in the film weaves together fiction with reality in a way I’ve never seen before. Jones, well you must see this film for yourself, to see what a powerful performance she gives, one that I hope she is acknowledged for when awards start to be distributed.
But most of all, I want to applaud and mention J.A. Bayona, the director of A Monster Calls, who brought this sad tale to life with such sensitivity and love for the celluloid format. As an adult, I surrendered to the story almost immediately. His use of animation and sweeping scenes involving the protagonist and monster drew me in, and the scenes with the boy and his mother and grandmother, together and separately, had me in tears. Conor’s struggle reminded me of my own struggle with cancer. When his character is bullied, it reminded me of my own son who has issues, who I pray for daily as what happens to Conor should never happen to a child.
I didn’t expect to be hit quite so hard, but welcomed the experience. When a movie gets inside you like this one, it’s worth everything.
Stay tuned for interviews with members of the cast.
A Monster Calls comes to theaters everywhere on December 23rd.
Disclosure: I was invited to screen “A Monster Calls” to facilitate this post and others, but all opinions are my own.