Monday, January 16, 2017
A Monster Calls Review
"A Monster Calls" is the story of a lonely boy whose mother is dying from cancer. It's based on a book by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. I have not read the book, but I have several friends who have and absolutely love it. So there's a strong recommendation there. But since I have not read it personally, that's as much as I will say about the book. What attracted me personally, outside some great trailers, is director J.A. Bayona. In January 2013 he released a movie called "The Impossible," which had a similar box office story to "A Monster Calls." It was released in 2012 on a limited basis and expanded in January. Despite great reviews and an Oscar nomination for Naomi Watts, the movie really didn't reach an audience as it had a domestic run of just $19 million, a total that looks like will end up being five times more than what "A Monster Calls" will make here. Interestingly enough, both movies have done great in Bayona's home country of Spain as well as in the U.K. But we sadly seem to not have taken to this guy here in the U.S. That definitely will change soon as he's signed on to direct the "Jurassic World" sequel. When that movies comes out, know that you heard it here first. Bayona is a master director that deserves your attention.
The title of the movie comes from this boy being visited by a tree monster voiced by Liam Neeson who is there to tell him three stories as he is dealing with his mother's continually deteriorating health. I don't know exactly what to call these visitations. I don't know if they are dreams or visions, per se, but this monster is definitely more of a psychological thing for the boy as it's not a real monster visiting him. But the movie is built around these three stories that the monster tells the boy. After which, the monster tells the boy that the boy needs to share the nightmare he has been having with the monster. I won't tell you what these stories are, but I will say that my reaction was quite similar to that of the boy's. And I think that was intentional for this movie. I was bracing myself for three super deep, thought-provoking stories that would hit me to the core and I got that in a way I wasn't quite expecting. The stories didn't make any sense at first. And they didn't hit me to the core. Not right away, that is. But I was patient with the film as I got the feeling that there would be an "A Ha!" moment in the film where everything made sense. But until then, I vowed to be patient with the film as I trusted Bayona and knew that everyone that has seen the movie has praised it.
The first thing that blew me away were the visuals in the movie. This tree monster is phenomenal. And quite terrifying at first. I suppose that's where part of our PG-13 comes in. The movie is almost set up like a horror film when it first introduces the monster. The tone is very dark, the score is a bit creepy and the monster is very ominous. The CGI is very realistic and impressive with this monster and the way it approaches this boy makes you want to yell at the boy to escape. But of course the horror aspect goes away rather quickly once Liam Neeson starts speaking because you know he's not there to harm the boy, but rather help him. But Liam Neeson's voice is rather perfect. He has a very distinct and impressive voice that fits this role perfectly. He sounds gruff and scary like a monster, but he also has a very wise and intelligent voice, which is why roles like Aslan in "The Chronicles of Narnia" and Qui-Gon Jin in "The Phantom Menace" are perfect for him. Liam Neeson is a man you don't want to mess with or make mad, but he's also the perfect wise sage that you would trust with your life when he's talking to you and giving you advice. This is another excellent role for him.
I don't want to dive into the end of this movie. I'll let you experience it for yourself. But as far as my reaction, I will say that the patience I talked about earlier does pay off. Everything comes together perfectly as far as these stories in relating to the events of the movie. In comparing this movie again to "Manchester by the Sea," Manchester throws the emotion at you right at the beginning, punches you in the gut in the middle and sends you reeling backwards throughout the whole second half of the movie. "A Monster Calls" acts like it is going to punch you in the gut at several times, but backs off until the final act where it delivers at absolute TKO. If you have lost someone you love, this movie will destroy you emotionally. If you are a human being with a heart, this movie also should destroy you. If you happen to walk out and announce that you were unphased emotionally, I will be convinced that you are a robot. That's how strong this movie is. It takes a while to get there, but it's worth the wait. "A Monster Calls" is not likely to make it on my end of year list, but that doesn't mean it's not worth seeing. This is a phenomenal, emotional film. I'm going to give "A Monster Calls" a 9/10.