THE LAST WORD on ‘A Monster Calls’

a monster calls

I’m not actually sure what angle to take on ‘A Monster Calls‘. I’m not familiar with the award-winning children’s book it’s based on, so I can’t really come at it from that angle, although the animation and special effects, are impressive and seem special at moments. I’m certainly not gonna pan the movie outright, it’s too well-done for that, but I’ve just seen too many movies beforehand. Too many movies, read too many books, seen too many similar projects…, this is the kind of movie that’s either gonna work on you or it’s not, and I’ve just become a little too jaded over the years, or maybe I’ve just outgrown the narrative.

Actually, that’s not true, I’ve never liked this narrative structure. Structurally, the movie that ‘A Monster Calls‘ reminds me of, is Tim Burton‘s dreadful ‘Big Fish‘, which was also another film that was about coping with death, but through a storytelling device where between scenes of dying and eventual death of a major character, we’d get to see these fantastical images and stories, in that case it was about the past, (Spoiler) but it could’ve been fictional that, in a way, is supposed to help us deal or confront the inevitable emotion wrung of death. It’s not saying much to say that it works a lot better here, but I still don’t like this structure. I always thought the best way to do that was to make the images and stories in between to be experienced from the perspective of the main character, like in Charles Dickens‘s ‘A Christmas Carol‘, if all ghosts were just talk to him about Scrooge’s past, you think it would’ve changed. No, the thing that holds that story up is the Scrooge is taken on this journey and forced to recognize his past, present and future.

a monster calls

Anyway, ‘A Monster Calls‘ is a classic British children’s tale about a quirky young man, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) who’s mother, (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer. He’s aware that she’s dying, but he’s not dealing with it particularly well. And to be honest, nobody really is. His mother tries to calm him down by saying that she’ll be okay and other such lies, and the Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver, the best she’s been in years) doesn’t really bring things to reality as she’s stuffy and stubborn as well, and her and Conor are often at odds. The father’s (Toby Kebbell) mostly out of the picture. Oh, and he’s the kind of weird kid who is constantly bullied in school. (Sigh) You know, just as thought, if for once in one of these stories, it was actually the sadistic bully who has to deal with this shit, and he’s just a huge prick to everyone and whatnot? He’s like big and buff, and an athlete of whatever,…- Just a different idea on it; that’s all I’m saying. So, anyway, this gigantic Yew Tree from the backyard, starts coming to life at night and talks to Conor. Yes, a Yew Tree. That’s the Monster (Liam Neeson) in the title. I’m told Yew Trees are medicinal in nature, and some of the medicine that the Mother’s taking comes from Yews in some original…- somebody who knows about trees, comment section’s yours.

So the monster demands that he’ll tell three stories to Conor, in exchange for one story based on his truth to him. And this is upsetting, ’cause he’s surrounded by lies, so his truth is a little shaky to begin with, and also because he’s not a natural storyteller, and with his mother dying and all, why would he be at that moment? But that’s the deal, or he ends up, somewhere bad. Falling into the depth of special effects oblivion, I guess. I don’t mean to be so flippant about the movie, but like I said, I can appreciate it from afar, but this is a movie that’s only gonna work if you immediately connect to it, and even then, it’s a movie that’s mostly some elaborate metaphor for the death of a parent, when, frankly I might argue that the story of a kid just going through such a tragedy would’ve been interesting enough without adding so much more to it.

a monster calls

But I’m sure I wouldn’t say that if this was my first movie that was like this. ‘A Monster Calls‘ is the kind of film that’s done in that dark, scary adventure way that kids movies used to be made; the kind where we’d fear the Monster until we inevitably befriend them. It is a good and important message to tell, and yeah, I guess there’s worst ways to tell it. I doubt that this’ll become one of those great future childhood classics that everyone will see like ‘The Wizard of Oz‘ or ‘Willy Wonka…‘, but I wouldn’t be saddened to be wrong about that; I think it’s more likely gonna have a cult appeal for some but, who knows, I’ve never been the best at prognosticating this. I still don’t get why ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ is so beloved. (God, I’m ripping on Tim Burton a lot in this review. [Shrugs]) That said, I can see people loving ‘A Monster Calls‘, but to me, this is in the good-but-not-great category.

So, there’s two trees, one of them says to the other, “My last leaf fell off in January last winter,” and the other one says, “My last leaf didn’t fall ’till February,” and then this snake goes up to them and says, “I shedded all my skin last April.” Then the trees stare at each other for a bit, before one of them finally says, “Holy shit, a talking snake!”

Sorry, I felt like I needed to end that on a joke.

a monster calls

I’m David Baruffi, and l always. get the Last Word.

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