By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
A Monster Calls is a powerfully moving film about young Conor (spectacularly played by Lewis MacDougall) struggling to come to terms with the world around him. He is isolated. His mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness, his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is stern, he is bullied at school and he wants to be closer to his father. In the latter, there’s distance between them. His parents divorced when he was young and the split was not without causing some rifts. This story is not as developed as the other three. The demons the boy faces manifest as a yew tree (menacingly voiced by Liam Neeson) who visits him nearly every night at 12:07 am.
This walking behemoth offers him three stories, and there’s a riddle in the parable that Conor never quite figures out. Technically, this creature is this lad’s imaginary friend, and to figure out how he can help is buried in the analogies of the animated tales that make up part of this story. Just how he comes to figure them out requires a stretch of the imagination, or realizing that we are living in a fairy tale world. In this realm, true to Welsh tradition, these mystical figures are portrayed in shades of grey than individuals who are either naughty or nice. The tales Conor hears is supposed to impart a lesson, but the question of whether his experience with the tree spirit is real or not is up to how he sees the world.
This boy’s scribbles shows he’s certainly Lizzie’s son. She’s an aspiring artist. He’s just as talented, and to see him at work is a highlight. To see how his drawings come to life is reminiscent of how “The Tale of the Three Brothers” was animated for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie.
Glassworks Barcelona did exceptional work in bringing the magic alive in each of the animated sequences. The blend of digital, watercolor and ink textures are seamless. The character designs are wonderful to look at, and if the bigger story was not so important, I yearned to see an expansion of this impressionistic world.
However, the boy eventually manages to figure his life out and when it comes time for him to tell his tale, can he tell the Yew tree his mortal fears? For such an emotionally charged film that I think is a blending of Pan’s Labyrinth and A Christmas Carol, there’s more to growing up and accepting life’s challenges. The movie is ultimately a coming of age story to discover strength. As tough life was for Conor, perhaps what he’s experienced did not occur entirely in his imagination. The fairy world exists to guide the mortals when there is a need. and this youth definitely required it.
4 Stars out of 5