‘A Monster Calls’ Monstrously Engaging

‘A Monster Calls’ Monstrously Engaging

Novel adaptation powerful portrayal of grief and loss

Coping with grief and coming to terms with inevitable loss are some of life’s most complex subjects.

Director J.A. Bayona understands this with his vision of “A Monster Calls,” an adaptation of the Patrick Ness novel of the same name.

Newcomer Lewis MacDougall plays Connor, whose mom, portrayed powerfully by Felicity Jones, is sick and not getting better, despite trying seemingly every treatment available.

Connor is aware of her debilitating situation, but continually shuts himself off to it. What young child wants to think about having to live life without his mom?

Instead he draws away his frustrations late at night, a distraction that proves to be a bit too effective.

That is, until the titular monster – a wooden CGI beast sporting Liam Neeson’s devilishly sly voice – pays Connor a visit, and begins to preach his parables.

These moments, although they are what make “A Monster Calls” unique and provide its billing, are hit-or-miss. Rest assured, there is as much vital importance in the monster’s origin and appearance – other than being a cultural knockoff of Marvel’s Groot character – as there is in the stories he tells Connor.

Though the film is at its strongest and most accessible in Connor’s interactions with other humans, including his father who now lives in America, and his grandmother with whom he has trouble connecting.

Not only is MacDougall stronger in these scenes, but the interactions may lead us to think back to moments in our lives where we may not have gotten along with a family member in a time when it was so important to be emotionally in sync with one another.

A highlight of the film comes during the monsters’ third, and most unexpected, visit. If we haven’t figured it out up to this point, it finally becomes clear what the beast represents, as well as his timeliness of visiting Connor.

It is an impactful scene, when all aspects of this film come together perfectly, as Connor finally begins to let out what he’s been keeping pent up inside.

And that’s only the prologue to his real transformation in the film’s final act, one which makes us ponder the monster inside us all, and the power of releasing it when life hits us the hardest.

It’s difficult to tell who “A Monster Calls” is best suited for; its protagonist relates more to our youthful, innocent selves while the film is certainly more dark and mature than some may expect.

But the discussion it is sure to spark among moviegoers is an important one.

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David Lynch is an award-winning film critic and journalist and the current editor-in-chief of the New Mexico Daily Lobo.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.