At some point or another in our lives we’re all touched by cancer, and as sad as it is, we all know someone who has had to live with it. This is why, despite the fact that “A Monster Calls” is undeniably flawed, nobody moved when the end credits began to roll. The screening wasn’t alive with the rustling of popcorn or busy people putting on coats, it was silent, reverent, and filled with people ingesting what they had just seen.
As a study of what it is to grieve, “A Monster Calls” is an excellent film. It suffers from a couple of unnecessary clichés, and at times its presentation leaves something to be desired, but it displays clear understanding of what it is to come to terms with losing someone you love. Desperation, denial, and anger are all handled with confidence, and although the titular monster’s role in the film doesn’t actually feel necessary, he’s a useful vehicle through which to explore the subject matter.
Without the promise of seeing the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) this film would’ve been a lot more difficult to watch than it was, and it wouldn’t have been as appealing to a mass audience. However, the stories that the monster tells can be slightly obtuse, and there are points at which I felt that he detracted from the experience as a whole. It would’ve been nice if he’d initially been used as a horror element in the film – something for Conor (Lewis MacDougall) to fear rather than to embrace – because it would’ve made things more interesting in what was an underwhelming first act.
“A Monster Calls” is a film which is carried by a strong performance from Lewis MacDougall as Conor O’Malley, a young boy who uses an imaginary monster to cope with his mother’s cancer. Whilst he wasn’t particularly likeable given his complacent mannerisms, he played his part well particularly given that he is a child actor, and he worked well with Felicity Jones who gave a powerful performance despite having limited screen time.
Nevertheless, I felt that despite its emotive premise and reasonably good execution, “A Monster Calls” felt like it was missing something. I found it difficult to become invested at the start of the film because it was obvious that nothing significant was going to happen until later on, and the lack of interesting side-plots left little in the way of excitement.
At various points “A Monster Calls” felt like a children’s film with a blockbuster budget, and whilst movies marketed towards children aren’t inherently less worthy than films marketed towards adults, it’s difficult to translate adult themes into a family movie if that movie isn’t consistent with its tone. Sadly, I would have to say that I still don’t know what kind of tone J. A. Bayona was going for, and whatever feeling he was attempting to convey certainly didn’t come across as clearly as I would’ve liked.
Still, I felt that in spite of its flaws this movie was above average, and the fact that it got better as it went on made the overall experience more positive. The last few scenes are emotionally poignant and tie up the experience nicely, and it’s hard to criticise the film’s message or the intentions of the people involved. The performances are good and there’s nothing awful about the film, it’s just that certain elements miss their mark and leave scenes feeling hollow, especially during the first act.
So, whilst “A Monster Calls” isn’t exceptional in any area, it isn’t terrible at any point either. I definitely feel as though more could’ve been done with the premise, because despite being the film’s main selling point the monster isn’t really a tangible presence, but on the whole this is a decent movie which is elevated by its emotional subject matter.