A Monster Calls: Visually Stunning, Deeply Felt Coming of Age Fable

Spanish director J.A. Bayona is blessed with a wild imagination, which he puts to great use in his new, second English-speaking feature, A Monster Calls.

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Bayona made a splashy debut with the foreign film The Orphanage, which world premiered at the Cannes Film Fest. He then followed up with The Impossible, which had a slight, simple story and was overwhelmed by the special effects, though it garnered Naomie Watts a Best Actress Oscar nod.

A visually spectacular film, A Monster Calls is a return to form, balancing the CGI with a deeply touchingly emotional drama based on the award-winning novel.

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The screenplay adaptation is by the book’s author, Patrick Ness. Mr. Ness wrote the novel from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd.

The hero is a boy of 12, Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who escapes into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales.

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His daily existence is harsh. First, he needs to deal with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, though initially he doesn’t realize how grave her situation is.

The illness has necessitated Conor’s spending time with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who seems (but is really not) insensitive to his needs.

School doesn’t provide much comfort either. He is not academically inclined and his bullying by his classmates makes it all the more unpleasant.

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Conor’s father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away in the U.S., the boy yearns for guidance.

Things change, when Conor unexpectedly summons a most unlikely ally, who bursts forth with terrifying grandeur from an ancient towering yew tree and the powerful earth below it. He assumes the shape of a 40-foot-high colossus of a creature (portrayed in performance-capture and voiceover by Liam Neeson) who appears at Conor’s bedroom window at 12:07 one night, and keeps showing at that time on many nights thereafter.

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With stories to tell, the Monster insists that Conor listen to them and then  powerfully visualize them.

Gradually, Conor’s fear gives way to courageous feistiness, manifest in exterior acts, and then to looking deeper within himself, as the Monster made a condition, demanding that once the tales are told it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return.

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Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on an inspirational life-learning journey of courage, faith, and truth.