A Monster Calls Review: Stirring Visuals Enhance This Routine Sobfest

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Based on the classic children’s tale, A Monster Calls is undoubtedly emotional, director J. A. Boyena’s powerful artistry and style ensure of that. But for such mature filmmaking, the story being told here is disappointingly simple.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a kid living with his dying mother (Felicity Jones) in England without a father in sight for the front half. In his stead, Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver, a highlight, deceptively complicated) comes in and intrudes on his childhood. Or so he thinks. Too young to process his emotions, or perhaps the emotions are too damaging to process at any point in life, Conor images a monster (the voice of Liam Neeson) who vows to tell him three stories. Afterward, however, Conor will have to tell his own story.

The narrative arc here is pretty obvious. Conor must come to terms with this unfortunate turn in his young life. He must learn to cope with an absent father (Toby Kebbell) and living with his neurotic grandmother. Luckily, Boyena’s style, the film’s astounding visual effects, and some gorgeous animation for the monster’s tales keep A Monster Calls visually impressive enough to make up for a fairly routine arc of grieving.

Still, there’s a sense that the emotions the film is extracting out of you feel easy. A Monster Calls is going to make you cry, at times that appears to be its sole purpose. But the reasons for the tissues, while perfectly justified, don’t call for any other thinking than “this is really, really sad.” That doesn’t mean the film doesn’t tell its story effectively, it most certainly does, but that there isn’t enough to keep the film in your mind too long after it’s over. But this is still a rare case of special effects on display entirely to contribute to the emotion of the story. For that, as well as its stirring visuals, I have to praise A Monster Calls. There will be many more films like it, probably in 2017, but for now, this is serviceable, effective, and emotional. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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