Review: A Monster Calls Will Make You Ugly Cry
Title: A Monster Calls
Director: J.A. Bayona
Summary: A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mum’s terminal illness.
There are pieces of media in your life that are always going to make you cry. The dog episode of Futurama, the end of Big Fish; these are all things that will leave you (or me) in tears every time you see them. A movie that says it’s going to make you cry right up front are the ones to be leery about. Those movies are often trying to force the audience to feel a certain way instead of letting them get there through the feelings of the characters and the story itself. When I was told that A Monster Calls was going to make me cry I was hesitant because those are the movies that often don’t get to me.
A Monster Calls is a heartbreaking look at loss through the eyes of someone a little too young to properly process it.
There is a lot going on in this movie and a lot of it has to do with subtext. The ‘monster’ looks like a bigger and meaner version of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy as voiced by Liam Neeson. The young man in question, Conor, isn’t really afraid of the monster, though, because that isn’t the thing he’s afraid of. The thing he fears, more than anything, is his mom’s imminent death. There is a sense of denial from both of them, though, as she keeps telling him that she’s going to get better and he takes her word for it. At the same time he also seems to know, on some level, that she isn’t getting better and there’s nothing he can do.
The monster shows up one night to tell Conor three stories, all more than a little on the nose, that are told through minimalist watercolor art to reflect the fact that Conor is an artist himself. While the stories are obvious in what lessons they are trying to teach, they are pretty enough that they are worth watching. The monster himself is masterfully put together with motion capture so there are two people talking to each other instead of a kid being forced to interact with something that isn’t there.
The final reveals are a little on the spoiler side but the the movie touches on something that anyone who has lost a loved one has to deal with, even more so when someone loses a loved one to a slow moving terminal illness. The movie doesn’t do the best job at making the Mom a person outside of what the kid sees in her but the movie isn’t really about her. While the plot revolves around her dying this is more about Conor and how he’s going to deal with the fact that the center of his world is about to leave. She is idealized but we’re seeing this movie through Conor’s eyes so, of course, she is.
A Monster Calls is the type of sad movie I didn’t mind sitting through because it knew that its characters and story were good enough to get the audience to feel sad without trying too hard. The ending is pretty dynamite and the implications are fun enough to watch. This is absolutely worth your time but be sure to bring tissues and know what you’re getting into.