Death isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a young boy who is being forced to grow up at far too young of an age. But that’s what J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls explores—that dreadful age of misunderstanding, of being old enough to know what’s going on around you but not nearly old enough to confront the vast emotional complexities that come with death and grieving. While it stands firmly on its legs, the film ultimately overstays its welcome and perhaps even tries to make you feel too much.
Among being about death, A Monster Calls is also about storytelling—rather the importance of knowing there are always multiple sides to one and that you can’t always rely on who’s telling the story to paint the entire picture.
A Monster Calls follows young Conor (a remarkable Lewis MacDougall in only his second role) as he navigates the slippery, painful slopes that come along with having a single mother (the amazing Felicity Jones in another knockout performance) dying from an unspecified terminal illness. Every night at 12:07, however, a monster (Liam Neeson) appears and tells him a story through wondrous animation as a way of helping him through this dark time.
Where A Monster Calls succeeds is its characters and its ability to get you to feel so intensely over and over. Conor is uncertain and afraid, he has little to nobody to rely on—his father is off in America with his new family while his future guardian, his grandma (Sigourney Weaver) is utterly strict and controlling.
Where it doesn’t work is in its lengthiness and the fact that it tries just a little too hard at times. Even clocking in at under two hours, there’s a sense that a little trimming here and there was necessary, and that might play into the fact that it does try too hard to make you pity Conor. Shouldn’t having a totally rad, amazing mother like Felicity Jones dying of cancer already make you feel shitty enough as it is? Apparently not according to the filmmakers since they tack on a senseless bully that only grinds Conor into the ground just that little bit more. Is this necessary? No; it just takes time away from the beautifully heartbreaking relationship between Conor and his mom.
Nevertheless, A Monster Calls will undoubtedly pull at your heartstrings—if it doesn’t, there might be something wrong with you. While it misses on some opportunities to really drive home the sheer emotional weight, there’s enough to like and grow attached to here that warrants the ticket—and the box of tissues you will surely need.