A Monster Calls is a modern fairy tale about a giant tree-like monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) – who will remind everybody who has watched Guardians of the Galaxy of Groot – as he haunts/befriends a 12-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). This premise may seem ridiculous or common on paper, but the film is genuinely insightful, moving, and engrossing.
The main character, Conor, is too angsty and whiny from start to finish. And I admit that I sometimes found him kind of a bit annoying. But his miserable, angry personality is very much justified because what he’s dealing with is far more than what other boys his age is dealing with: a terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones); a stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), whom he has a tense relationship with; an estranged father living far from home (Toby Kebbell); and a school bully who regularly beats him up (James Melville). As result, he keeps to himself, spending most of his time sketching on his drawing pad, and being troubled with chronic nightmares.
One day, the movie’s titular Monster visits him, and declares that he will tell him three stories within the following days – which happen either at 12:07 AM or PM. Once they are told, he obliges Conor to tell him a fourth story – the truth behind his nightmare. The Monster’s tales are brief and follow a bedtime story-style premise and narrative structure, but they have twist endings and serve as profound metaphors for some difficult life lessons that are supposedly relevant to what Conor is going through. I really enjoyed the Monster’s short stories for they are told through gorgeous visual storytelling and for their unexpected depth.
The resolution of this film is very satisfying, though also heartbreaking, as the audience should have completely empathized with Conor at that point, learning with him about accepting the grimness and complexity of life; moving on amidst pain; and the power, value, and beauty of stories.
I really like A Monster Calls. It’s a movie I can imagine rewatching in the future, especially when its themes of loss and grief became more relatable to me (but much, much later than sooner, hopefully), since those are inevitable stages of life. Though it’s emotionally manipulative and dragging at times, everything adds up into a powerful, well-layered movie.