TIFF — “A Monster Calls” Will Connect With Many, Leave Others Wanting More

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In the J.A. Bayona-directed A MONSTER CALLS, there’s a little boy and a gigantic talking tree, so it must be a Spielbergian good time, right? Well, not really. The word “monster” in the title may be misleading as this film isn’t as fantastical as one might think.

Based on the book by Patrick Ness (who also adapted the screenplay for the film), the film follows 12 year-old Conor (the talented Lewis MacDougall) as he deals with bullies at school and his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness. When things start to take a turn for the worse, he moves in with his stern, no-frills grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). During his struggles, he finds an unlikely ally with a gruff Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) as he helps him navigate through life with courage, faith, and truth.

I was one of those people who thought that this would a be a fantastical movies in which a child befriends a larger-than-life creature and they go on a wild coming-of-age adventure. In the end, the child learns a valuable lesson and everyone lives happily ever after. But only some of that is true.

A Monster Calls is surprisingly intense and deals with some major adult themes — mainly coping with loss. Without giving anything away, the Monster, which looks like a meaner and more aggressive Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, serves a greater purpose than just being a fairytale character to teach Conor a lesson or two. Instead of singing a sugary song or serving as a snarky sidekick, the Monster blatantly teaches him morals that he can incorporate into his life at that very moment — mostly with his sick mother.

The story often drags, with details that tend to be long and drawn out far more than is necessary. The film tries to make something of Conor’s relationship with his dad (Toby Kebbell) and his strict Grandmother, but those are strands that ultimately fall flat. Even the monster tree grows wearisome after a while. The child/sick mother dynamic is the film’s strongest asset and it’s emotional core, but the execution may not be everyone’s cup of tea (proven by the many walk-outs during my screening).

Although cut from the same cloth of movies like The BFG and The Iron Giant, A Monster Calls doesn’t have the appropriate energy and strength to be a kid-centric movie that adults enjoy. However, it does parallel Pixar’s Inside Out in that it’s a touching story about how a child can deal with feelings in extremely emotional moments in their lives.

TB-TV-Grade-B-
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 108 minutes

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watches too much , enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.

Twitter: @dinoray

Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer

For more of our coverage of TIFF 2016, click here.

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