Juan Antonio García Bayona’s A MONSTER CALLS
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Sometimes a movie comes along that reminds you it sometimes pays to see movies in a real theater on a large screen with a decent sound system. A MONSTER CALLS is one of those films, not because of spectacle or crashing explosions but because of of the art, imagery, and emotion on display.
In this film drawings come to life. Paint and ink explode across pages. Pencils scratch lines on paper in closeup. Images emerge. Children with multicolored backpacks are seen from overhead flowing through a building’s entryway like leaves floating down the surface of a canal.
This imagery never gets out of hand. We're not overwhelmed but impressed at how well the music (Fernando Velázquez), art, and sound support a story which admittedly at first sounds like a tragic fairy tale.
An adolescent boy's (Lewis MacDougall) mother is dying of a terminal illness. She (Felicity Jones) presents a brave front as the grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) tries to prepare the boy for the inevitable.
The boy's emotions are whipsawed. He is having nightmares involving destruction, death, and the loss of his mother. In his dreams a giant tree monster (Liam Neeson) appears and offers to tell him three stories. But the boy must then tell a fourth story – and that one must be the truth.
It sounds hokey when described like this but who are we to judge how one so young and adolescent must deal with the long drawn-out and painful agony of loved one’s death? If fantasy helps, isn't that a good thing?
The stories the monster tells are parables. They appear as artfully drawn animated fairy tales but illustrate cruel realities of life including greed, deception, mistrust, and ambition. These are things we all learn as we grow older. The boy is forced to learn them quickly as his mother lies dying as he comes to terms with his own feelings. Or, as the monster says, "the truth."
There's more to the story. We have the grandmother, the estranged father (Toby Kebbell), and the boy’s bullying at school. These are deftly handled and illustrate how real-world the boy’s situation is as even he attempts to keep a household going in the face of his mother's protracted illness.
It's not a typical “feel-good” movie. Everything is not neatly tied up with a bow at the end. We see instead how the boy comes to terms with tragedy and loss. What we see is not always pleasant, but it is real. That he is helped along the way by a tree giant with glowing red eyes is dramatic icing on the cake.
Movie review copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald