Calling J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls a “kids movie” does this film a disservice. While the film stars a young boy, it deals with themes relevant to people in general, regardless of age. It’s about the long process of watching someone you love slowly succumb to something that seemingly can’t be stopped.
This movie is a legitimate work of art, even in its aesthetics. The Monster (played to perfection by Liam Neeson) looks phenomenal. His eyes vary between looking incredibly human to bright demonic red. He can look completely friendly or terrifying, but regardless of which, the CGI rendering of him is consistently top notch. What’s even more impressive, though, are the stories he tells. The film switches from live action to full CGI meant to look like water color paintings come to life, and they are beautiful. The transition between environments during these segments are always creative and they cause the scenes to flow incredibly well. They’re also well integrated into the movie. This is because even during the live action scenes, this movie is gorgeously shot. From Connors paintings transitioning into his window pane, to the tears on his cheek transitioning into rain droplets running down the window, this movie is so creative that even scene changes are inventive. Certain scenes are so well framed that they look more like paintings, than still images from a movie.
Fortunately, this film isn’t great just for its looks, as the entire cast gives incredible performances throughout. My only real complaint with this movie is that Connor’s father (played by Toby Kebbel) isn’t in it quite enough for us to be invested in his character as much as we are the others. This doesn’t keep Kebbel from making the best of every scene he’s in. As a father, he’s far from perfect, but he’s likeable and sympathetic. He wants what is best for his son, but he struggles to communicate this with him at times. Sigourney Weaver is perfectly cast as Connor’s overly strict grandmother. So much of this movie is about how things aren’t always so black and white and Connor’s grandmother is a perfect example of this. In a weaker film, she would have been clearly made the film’s antagonist, much like how Connor views her. However, like Connor’s father, despite her faults she cares deeply for both Connor and his mother. This care she has for Connor leads to her sharing with him one of the films’ most touching scenes. Felicity Jones turned in a great performance in Rogue One weeks before, but it’s here she truly shines. The optimism her character, who has been diagnosed with cancer, has throughout this film makes it almost difficult to watch. She’s such a likeable character and we are so invested in her relationship with her son that we feel like Connor, watching someone we love suffer through this. Ultimately, this film rests on the shoulders of Lewis MacDougall, who plays Connor. MacDougall gives a performance good enough to be considered for an academy award. Watching him go through the emotions of seeing his mother slowly succumb to cancer is enough to bring anyone to tears. Even though his grief causes him to be prone to violent outbursts, because of MacDougall’s performance, he remains incredibly sympathetic.
I am pleased to announce that A Monster Calls is perfectly sane. Unfortunately, this movie bombed at the box office and will most likely not be remembered as having even existed by the general public. But for those who saw this film, it will absolutely be one they remember. And I can only hope that future generations of film lovers find this hidden gem. Though, if you do, bring a box of tissues. No literally, bring the whole box.