I didn’t know much going into this movie review. I knew it was about a sad kid and Felicity Jones is in it. So if you know anything about it, you can imagine my hesitation when I realized how hormonal I was and it was time to watch this film.
As the trailer elaborates, this is the story of a boy-not-yet-a-man named Conor (played by Lewis MacDougall) who is struggling to deal with losing his mother (Felicity Jones) slowly due to illness. Conor believes he is doing enough to care for his mother, and that she will eventually get better. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is stepping in and moving Conor into her house; a move Conor does not appreciate. He would prefer to be safe at home. Dealing with that, on top of being bullied at school, Conor soon comes face to face with a terrifying tree-beast. The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) comes to give Conor three stories/life lessons, at the end of which Conor will have to face his own truth. What will happen when Conor has to face the reality of the situation? What is his truth? And what will he do to keep it from coming true?
For starters, the cast of this film is utterly and completely fantastic. The three main characters of Colin, his mum, and his grandmum are the highlight of the film and portrayed beautifully. Lewis MacDougall stars as Colin, and this is only his second film appearance. His first was in the Peter Pan adaptation Pan. I feel absolutely certain when I say this: I guarantee this kid gets at least an Oscar nomination, if not a win in his lifetime. The raw emotional power that this youth brought to this film was utterly harrowing. I can see his star shining brightly in the future. Supporting him were Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver who have both cemented their acting creds. Jones has a minimal role, namely, we just watch her waste away. But you still see in her the parental pain of wanting to protect your child from pain and worse. Weaver also slowly wastes away as you watch her lose control of the situation and unravel seeing her daughter lose the battle with cancer. Not many other actors have significant parts except Toby Kebbell as Conor’s father and James Melville who plays Conor’s tormentor Harry. And though he never physically appears on screen in the flesh, Liam Neeson is the perfect casting to voice The Monster. A small but very well stacked cast carries this movie well.
The Monster comes to Conor, and at first, you and Conor believe that the monster is there to fix everything. That with these stories and actions, he will heal Conor’s mother and bring balance back to their life. The first story is about a prince fighting with his young stepmother over the throne. The young love of the prince is killed and the queen was driven out of the country for it and the prince went on to rule happily. But who is truly evil? How does our perception of good and bad direct how we view people? The second story is about a parson who preaches industrialization, but an apothecary finds his business driven away by the parson’s words. When the parson’s daughters become ill, he seeks the help of the apothecary and says he will praise him in his sermons and he will do anything to save his daughters. The apothecary cannot help any man so willing to renounce his beliefs. The parson’s daughters die. Do you stand firm to your beliefs in easy times? Or in hard ones too? The last story is about an invisible man who is sick of being invisible and summons the monster to help him never be invisible again. The monster does this. But is being invisible that bad? Or are there worst things than being unseen? The Monster comes to Conor, but is it possible that the monster was there all along? How do we deal with the monsters in our lives? What can we learn from this film in how to deal with our monsters? It leaves us full of thoughts, doesn’t it?
The pain of this movie comes from many parts, and all of them are given great depths. One instance is the pain of a child watching their parent die. Now, this is how it usually goes, but the parent and child are supposed to be much older. But here is a kid, in the prime evolution of his life, when the biggest problems are supposed to be zits and voice changing; instead he gets to watch his mother fight and lose. Another instance is how to feel about long suffering. So many times the emotional exhaustion is overwhelming, and people begin wishing it would end. But then there is the guilt of wishing your loved one dead, even if it is to escape the pain. Another instance is the parental protection. This goes two fold as Colin’s mom wants to protect him from the pain of losing her, but also her mother losing her child and watching her die. So it is safe to say this film punches you in the heart repeatedly.
The other incredibly solid part of this film, besides the acting and emotional punching, is the utterly beautiful illustration and animation. The watercolor style silkily glides across the page and stunningly portrays the tales of The Monster. Colin’s affinity for art came from his mother and it rounds out the film well using it to tell the stories. While it is a painful and possibly tear-filled viewing, this is a stunning film and I highly recommend it. I suggest it, at the very least, for anyone losing someone to a prolonged illness, but if you are just an average Joe/Jane then I suggest making sure you’re in a solid emotional state. Otherwise, this one is going to rip your heart apart. I got the snotty tissues to prove it.
A Monster Calls debuts Saturday, September 02 at 8:00pm.