More tender than frightful

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Karen Kunawicz

Karen Kunawicz

Don’t be deceived. A Monster Calls is neither scary, nor is it odd, whimsical and dark in a Roald Dahl sort of way. It is actually a tender—if a little bit sad and melancholic—coming of age tale. You might actually want to bring some tissues to this “monster movie.”

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Twelve-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a loner at school—think along the lines again of Asa Butterfield’s Jake in the recent Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Not only is he struggling socially, he has to deal with something heavier—his beloved mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill and she just gets weaker and weaker as the movie progresses.

Conor has a father (Toby Kebbel) who seems to not be fully committed to him. He lives in Los Angeles with a new family and he’s only willing to take Conor in for a Christmas visit, nothing more. Conor also has a grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) but she is more stern than warm.

Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson as voice of monster

Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson as voice of monster

As he is trying to accept and make sense of all this, a tree monster—think a combination of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy and Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings—appears at his bedroom window. The tree monster, voiced by Liam Neeson tells him riddle-like stories and offers advice as he goes through these difficult times. Throughout Conor’s entire ordeal, the tree monster appears to him.

A Monster Calls is both sad and tender and it’s pulled off quite well by a very interesting Spanish film director JA Bayona. He directed one Penny Dreadful episode and two films: The Impossible and The Orphanage—both critically acclaimed. The first is a well done tale about a family living through the 2004 Tsunami and the second is a horror film hailed for its use of atmosphere vs. blood and gore (it’s also produced by Guillermo del Toro).

MacDougall and Felicity Jones

MacDougall and Felicity Jones

It seems Hollywood has a lot faith in Bayona, as imdb says his next film will be the Jurassic World sequel.

Speaking of big things ahead for people connected in this film, Felicity Jones (who was great in The Theory of Everything) will be seen in what is probably this year’s most anticipated film—Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. She plays the lead character: Jyn Erso. Danish national treasure Mads Mikkelsen who is in Doctor Strange plays her father, Galen Erso.

I also watched Doctor Strange a second time. It was even better and I don’t think I’ve fully appreciated the brilliant marriage of math and art in the special effects yet. Oscar!

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