The story of a child escaping in a dream world because its reality is too painful is nothing new. Spanish director Guillermo del Toro already did something similar with his masterpiece El laberinto del fauno and – it hurts me to say this – far more effective than A monster calls.
The problem of this movie is that the reality is very dire. Very dark and very real. The fantasy on the other hand is light and often funny.
Unfortunately, the movie fails to bring both worlds together into one coherent story. One part disrupts the other. And so, it becomes quite hard to enjoy the movie as a whole.
The one thing A monster calls does very well is the depiction of the tree monster. The voice acting of Liam Neeson is raw and captivating, making this creature the very first successful CGI-monster of 2017.
Then again, the monster by itself is boring … it does very little more than tell stupid stories and break down houses, just for fun.
From the very beginning it becomes clear that Conor, the young boy who struggles with his mum’s terminal illness – is facing a very hard time. He’s bullied in school, hates his grandmother and is often alone and angry.
He escapes into a make-belief world where a giant tree monster awaits to help him, and deal with all these emotions.
When you read it like this, A monster calls sounds quite interesting. However, the execution is poorly done. The reality of a sick mother who’s close to dying stands in firm contrast with the colorful fantasy of a giant storytelling tree monster. Somehow … both worlds cannot co-exist in this movie.
Let it be known this is only Lewis MacDougall‘s second movie – not to mention that the first one was quite weak – and the boy is only 15 years old. Still, the casting of the young boy could’ve benefited from a better actor. Some scenes are great, yet others are very shallow.
It’s within these unconvincing moments that the young Scottish boy fails to act such deep and complex emotions … emotions that he probably never even experienced.
This weakness becomes very apparent when looking at the two other leads: Felicity Jones & Sigourney Weaver. Both women are very much in control of their anger and devastation, and would’ve made a real difference in the movie, if the writing had been better.
It’s hard to say who’s to blame. Is it the writing? Is it the director? Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste.
Whichever way you slice it, A monster calls isn’t a fantasy movie. It’s not even an entertaining movie.
It’s a very dire and bleak representation of what happens to a young boy when faced with his mother dying. It’s a long and arduous journey of two persons fighting a disease that keeps destroying the things we love the most.
A monster calls needed a silver lining. Some uplifting message to circumvent all that drama. And the fantasy of a silly tree monster just … isn’t … powerful enough!
Did you know?
Affecting an English accent was second nature to Sigourney Weaver since her mother was British.
Give it to me short:
A monster calls has a very interesting story when you look at it. But what it tries to do is also very hard. And it’s something very little movies have been successful at. Bringing together a grim reality with a colorful fantasy requires something special. A brilliant writer or a masterclass director. This movie sadly has neither.
While both parts of the story work well on their own, it’s the culmination of the two worlds that collide into something boring and disrupting at times. The raw reality in the movie is so depressing that it neglects to entertain on any level. But also, especially when you’ve ever lost someone close to you, the movie doesn’t delve deeply enough on an emotional level. You’re constantly thrown back and forth between the silliness of a talking tree and the seriousness of a sick mother dying of cancer.
Also: doesn’t the monster in this movie look like a copy of Groot, the tree-creature in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’?