A Monster Calls – Twelve year old, Conor is forced to cope with his mother’s illness and with no-one to talk to, he suffers in silence. One night, the Yew Tree he can see from his bedroom window turns into a monster and promises to tell him three stories but in return Conor must tell the fourth story: his truth. As life continues, Conor also struggles with bullies, his ‘mean’ Grandma and estranged father causing his negative emotions to start to get the better of him. The monster helps him to understand the anger he feels but it’s up to Conor to truly face what he has been hiding from himself.
A Monster Calls (2016) – Director: J. A. Bayona
Running Length: 108 mins
Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
‘A MONSTER CALLS’ REVIEW
Based upon the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, ‘A Monster Calls’ may have fantasy elements running through it but its core message is one of heart-breaking reality: a child forced to face a parent’s mortality. A subject that is so difficult for adults to tackle, the needs of the children most affected by oncoming loss are often misunderstood, causing them to feel ignored, forgotten and pushed aside. What ‘A Monster Calls’ does spectacularly is put twelve-year-old, Conor, front and centre of what’s happening; his perspective is never patronising, his emotions (especially his anger) are raw and uncompromising but he never loses his sense of self even during his hardest times.
The Monster that comes to him is also full of anger but it cares for Conor and he is never afraid of it, his reliance on it showing how alone he feels. He is desperate for someone to talk to who will understand his fears and his need to express himself without having to tread on eggshells around others. The direction is beautiful – subtle, understanding and sympathetic without ever being condescending. The characterisation of the small cast are completely believable, the script showing that Conor has been forced to grow up quickly but not quite coping with the expectations that others have of him.
A Monster Calls puts into focus the harsh and unfair reality of too many children in this world who are coping with something that is often too hard for even the toughest of adults. This story, which is likely to hit home with many audience members, sheds positive light on something society struggles to accept and for many children who are suffering in silence, this gentle but uncompromising approach is both a welcome insight and cultivated work of cinema.
IS ‘A MONSTER CALLS’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
Conor is bullied at school by three boys. They corner him and beat him to the ground, punching and kicking him. One of the boys pulls his tongue as far out of his mouth as he can, causing Conor to cry out and says ‘good boys don’t talk’. Later, one of the boys says that Conor has ‘such a punchable face’, the camera pans away as they boys push Conor out of shot, indication that this severe beating continues.
One night, while Conor lies in bed, he hears his name whispered by a deep, rumbling voice which could be a little frightening for some kids. Tree roots then rip out of the ground and a huge, hand stretches out, up to the sky. There is a close up of angry, flaming red eyes and, as the monster walks towards Conor, a large shadow of it is seen on his house. The monster menacingly says ‘I have come to get you, Conor O’Malley’.
One of the stories that the monster tells Conor includes the a man being stabbed with spears several times, this is seen in close up but also in silhouette so no blood is seen. A quiet, echoing scream is heard. It also tells of the murder of a woman whose body is found by her lover who touches her, thinking she is merely asleep but when he raises his hands they are covered in blood.
A very ill woman is seen from behind, she is very skinny and, as her t-shirt is lifted by a nurse, her ribs can be seen and she has lost most of her hair. A loved one unexpectedly opens the door and sees her but the door is closed on them before the woman becomes aware of their presence. No graphic or sexualised nudity is shown in this scene.
A boy is knocked to the floor by another boy and repeatedly punched in the face; when the attacker is spoken to by his teacher afterwards, she tells him that he ‘sent him to the hospital’. While it would be unfair to say this boy deserved to be attacked like this, his previous introduction as a bully may help this scene be less upsetting and perhaps more satisfying for a lot of kids!
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
VERDICT – IS ‘A MONSTER CALLS’ FOR KIDS?
‘A Monster Calls’ is a superb, thought-provoking, and poignant movie that will resonate with anyone who has ever been affected by cancer. Due to its strong subject matter that is likely to be too upsetting for a lot of kids (and potentially too boring for younger children who don’t understand what’s happening), we feel this movie is appropriate for those aged ten and over – although we recommend adult supervision as some scenes do get very upsetting.
- Violence: 3/5
- Emotional Distress: 5/5 (in one scene, Conor hears a bang as his mother has collapsed onto the floor, he rushes to her but another character is already with her. Clearly feeling helpless, he pulls at his hair and groans in distress at what he is seeing)
- Fear Factor: 2/5 (the monster is quite scary as he is an imposing and intimidating figure, however he is seen through Conor’s perspective and as the boy isn’t ever afraid of it, this fear is likely to be short-lived)
- Sexual Content: 0/5
- Bad Language: 1/5 (infrequent mild blasphemy)
- Dialogue: 2/5 (the dialogue is surprisingly coy when discussing the illness that Conor’s mother has although they do discuss her treatments and it is made clear that Conor is struggling with his circumstances)
- Other Notes: Deals with themes of single parent families, bullying, terminal illness, anger, coping mechanisms, understanding other people’s emotional pain, facing a difficult future and carrying on when life is falling apart around you.
Words by Laura Record