I read the novel ‘A Monster Calls’ as contextual reading for my dissertation, the focus of which was how people deal with grief differently (Or Don’t). So I knew what was coming when I sat down to watch this movie, and I have to say right off the bat that this movie blew me away.
From the first scene of the movie, - Conor getting ready for school, washing his own clothes, etc. - I knew the story was in good hands. The movie introduces its main themes subtly and often profoundly. It doesn’t treat you like a child, which is interesting because the fantastical nature of the movie, and the age of its protagonist, somewhat position it as a family movie, when in reality it deals with subjects that even some adults can’t handle. Having said that, there’s no reason children shouldn’t watch this movie, and, in fact, if they can handle the mild horror of the monster, which passes quickly, then I would actively encourage it, because this might well be the most important movie on dealing with grief.
I love how the story, which is relatively simple on the surface, although loaded with tiny details and subtleties, allows its audience to delve into the psychological fallout of Conor’s situation, to the extent that I think if someone is really struggling with denial, this movie would go an awfully long way in helping them understand. For some people, this movie will be a feature-length therapy session, articulated better than any therapist could in that timeframe. I think it’s a huge testament to the power of telling stories, because for all their indirection, they can often say things so much better than one can using scientific and factual language.
But to speak about the movie as a movie, it was equally incredible. The pacing was as perfect as I’ve seen; there was no scene or even shot that I noticed, that I felt didn’t add something new to the story, or had some purpose, and there was no moment where I just wanted to get to the next development, because the movie carried you at the perfect speed that you didn’t have time to think about it.
The acting was also perfect. Conor was better than I could have ever hoped, and it’s genuinely mind-blowing that any human, let alone child, can have such empathy to fully understand the character as if it were themselves, and then express those things in such a human way that they felt as real as anyone in the room. The other characters were great, too, although I wasn’t so convinced by Sigourney Weaver’s accent. And since I’m talking about the only few things that I disliked about this movie, I’ll briefly mention the bullying scenes. I found them too false, which took away from the immense realism of the rest of the movie, albeit only for a moment. I, myself, find it nigh impossible to accurately write child bullies, because even if you transcribed an actual conversation between a bully and his prey with all the lucidity in the world, it would just feel fake to our adult minds. I picked up on this in the book, and was disappointed to see it was an issue in the movie, too, because it seemed Patrick Ness (who also wrote the screenplay, fucking hats off to the guy, as well) opted for the cliche bully, who calls Conor by his surname, and speaks noticeably posher than the other kids, which sounds faker than a whore’s tits. Having said that it was such a minor detail in an amazingly executed movie that it’s barely worth mentioning.
As a side note, I loved Liam Neeson's voice as the monster. After watching the movie, I couldn't imagine anyone else for the part.
I loved the stories that the monster tells, too, and the fact that they opted for a different art style for those scenes, which was beautiful, and linked nicely back to Conor and his mother’s love of art. They all tied perfectly into the climax, too, which was so powerful, I can’t even describe it. You just have to watch this movie, but don’t expect to be leaving the theatre with dry-eyes, and I don’t say that lightly.
This movie got great reviews, and it’s rare that I say this, but I still don’t think they’re good enough. I think the main criticism is that the movie doesn’t fit neatly into a target audience or genre, but ultimately those paradigms only work for movies that accept them, and this movie doesn’t try to fit into any boxes. It’s a movie for anyone and everyone, and I say this with the utmost sincerity; in a world full of denial and deceit, we need to look within and understand ourselves in order to understand the world around us, and if there’s one movie that helps us do that, it’s ‘A Monster Calls’. It seems insufficient to refer to it as a movie; ‘A Monster Calls’ is a deep, emotional experience, one whose catharsis may lead to peace and acceptance for so many people.