Friday, January 6, 2017
A Monster Calls
Reminiscent of other movies about a kid losing himself in his imagination rather than deal with the difficulties of his life, A Monster Calls is a visually impressive adaptation of the book of the same name. The story may not offer a darkness as palpable as "The Nothing" (points for all who get that reference), but there's plenty of real emotion beyond Conor's (Lewis MacDougall) struggle to hide from both the constant bullying at school and his mother's (Felicity Jones) deteriorating health.
Conor's fantasy comes in the form of a giant walking tree who returns night after night to share stories with the boy while demanding Conor reveal the truth concerning his own dark nightmares. Once played out the plot plays a bit too much like a bizarre therapy session, but the film's message certainly rings true.
Toby Kebbell), who has moved on to a new family, and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who is just oblivious and strict enough not to understand Conor's struggle but never mean enough to come off as evil.
Along with Weaver's simplistic take (which I can almost forgive as a mother caring more for her ailing daughter than her grandson cracking up), I also have some qualms about Conor's principal and teachers who, like his grandmother, are just oblivious enough to serve the plot. It's an easy for a movie to make those characters caring yet blind, but given the amount of torture Conor suffers at school, and the numbers of scrapes and bruises these attacks would inflict, I find it hard to believe no one ever noticed or remarked on the situation.
The most impressive piece of the film is the unnamed tree creature itself (completely CGI and voiced by Liam Neeson) and the tales he shares which are animated on-screen. Of course there are problems with these as the creature shares stories too complicated for Conor to understand yet we're never given any reason to believe the monster could be anything more than a figment of a child's imagination. If that's the case, where do these stories come from?
While her starring role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story certainly got her more publicity, Jones is well-cast as the loving mother struggling with both her illness and how to do right by her son. By necessity her role is limited, but the scenes between mother and son are certainly a highlight which is important because it's that mother/son dynamic which is central to the film's message.