Every once in a while, you come across a movie that surprises you. A film that simultaneously entertains you and speaks to you in some manner. “A Monster Calls” is a movie that does that for me.
In this 2016 film directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) he successfully blends drama with magic realism to adapt a children’s story into a movie that will entertain and emotionally affect a wide range of ages. This movie succeeds because it achieves that delicate balance of entertaining while delivering a powerful, meaningful message that is universal for all audiences. It is well worth just south of two hours of your time.
The story revolves around a 12-year-old boy named Conor (Lewis Macdougall) and his troubled life, as he navigates adolescence, bullying issues at school, a grandmother with whom he is polar opposites, and a father who is emotionally and physically distant. He is navigating all of this while simultaneously dealing with a sick mother and everything that entails. He suffers insomnia due to recurring nightmares, and he regularly escapes through his artwork. He gets wrapped up in a world of mythical figures and fantasies as he explores and comes to terms with his fears, troubles and life issues.
I was very impressed with the direction of this movie. It is very easy to let a movie and story like this get out of hand and become confusing, muddled or just plain unbelievable. Especially when dealing with magical realism, there’s a fine line between fantasy and absurdity. It can very quickly spiral into the realm of becoming unbelievable and cheesy. Bayona keeps such delicate control of this movie that it never descends into that realm of being dismissed as tacky and ham handed. Bayona also balances the use of CG (which are very high quality) and several animated scenes (also high quality) and blends it with the dialogue and voice overs in a way that it advances the story, and adds to the overall cinematic experience. Bayona found a way to flawlessly balance all these elements to advance and add to the storyline and effect the movie has on the viewer.
This movie is so successful because it’s based on the book of the same title that was released five years earlier in 2011. The story contains subtle themes and motifs that will entertain and inform a younger early teen audience (the film is rated PG-13) as well as an adult audience. The themes in the movie deal with loss, faith, courage, and healing, among others. The story succeeds so admirably because it manages to tell a visually and emotionally engaging story while simultaneously entertaining you throughout. Although the themes are quite heavy at times, there are no moments where I find the film to be preachy or heavy-handed. The story is written in such a balanced way that you are able to digest multiple storylines without feeling overwhelmed.
“A Monster Calls” is a visual and emotional roller coaster. You will laugh at scenes. You will jump, at times. You will also cry. It is rare that the same movie can elicit all these emotions from the same film. This movie was so powerful and moving to me without feeling like a lifetime movie, or something designed to create cheap emotional reactions. It’s honest, simple, and most importantly, original and imaginative.
These are rare traits in film these days. I fully recommend this movie, and this one is worth seeing!