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Where Art, Imagery and Emotions Rule: “A Monster Calls” [review]

a monster calls review
Dennis D McDonald

This is no feel good movie. It isn’t (just) a tragic fairytale either. “A Monster Calls” is gorgeous and emotionally evocative. Watch it in a real theatre …

aNewDomaindennis 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 beautifully the music (Fernando Velázquez), art, and sound support a story, which admittedly at first does sound like a tragic fairy tale. But it isn’t.

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.

a monster calls reviewThe 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.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 10.30.46 AMThe 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.

“A Monster Calls” is definitely not your 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.

For aNewDomain, I’m Dennis D. McDonald.

Here’s the official trailer for “A Monster Calls.”

An earlier version of this column ran on Dennis D. McDonald’s DDMCD site. Read it here.

About the author

Dennis D McDonald

Dennis D McDonald

Dennis D. McDonald is an independent consultant based in Alexandria Virginia. His interests include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and technology adoption. Clients have included the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, National Academy of Engineering, the World Bank, University Research Co., Catalyst Rx, the National Library of Medicine and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.