Twelve year old Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) has a lot to deal with at such a young age. His Mom (Felicity Jones) has cancer, his Grandma (Sigourney Weaver) is less than sympathetic, his Dad (Tobey Kebbell), divorced from his mom, is remarried and lives in Los Angeles, and he's being bullied at school. "A Monster Calls" is overwhelmingly dark and ultimately depressing, definitely NOT suitable for anyone under 12 --- and even that is debatable.
To escape his troubles --- and because he cannot sleep --- Conor conjures up a 40-foot-high Monster (voiced and performance capture by Liam Neeson) who appears outside his bedroom window at exactly 12:07 a.m. The Monster insists that Conor listen to his stories night after night, and once his tales have been completed, Conor must reveal his own truth in return.
To state that these fables are frightening is an understatement. And because "A Monster Calls" is based on the award-winning novel of the same title by Patrick Ness, many parents will assume that this film is suitable for children. It is NOT! Ness also wrote the screenplay, so it is safe to say --- I've not read his novel --- the movie is a fair representation of the book. However, and I cannot stress this enough, "A Monster Calls" is inappropriate for small children.
I will agree that "A Monster Calls" is visually spectacular. The Monster, and how he comes to life out of the yew tree, is phenomenal. Neeson is the perfect choice to voice the Monster --- and to use for performance capture. The Monster is much less imposing when he is simply talking with Conor. But the scene near the end of "A Monster Calls", when the Monster is demanding that Conor speak his truth, is overwhelmingly harsh and disturbing.
Most of us would not be capable at the age of 12 to face the death of our mother. The emotions in "A Monster Calls" are quite raw and believable. McDougall is brilliant --- his actions and reactions are exactly what we would expect from a boy his age going through such a traumatic experience.
There is, however, one scene which I found to be questionable. Grandma's house is very orderly compared to Conor's home with his mother. She possesses many things which mean a great deal to her, one of which is an antique grandfather's clock. During one of his dream sequences with the Monster, Conor proceeds to smash an entire room at his Grandma's --- the same space containing all of her precious possessions.
Of course, we all feel very sorry for Conor, but this, for me, was too much. Then, instead of discouraging such behavior, his mom tells him to break whatever he wants whenever he wishes, if it will help him feel better. Yes, well, I'm not exactly sure that's the best advice --- nor the best way to process one's anger.
Despite the outstanding performances and visuals, "A Monster Calls" is seriously too dark to be entertaining. It's much too traumatizing for children, and I don't know why adults would choose to see it, either. There are many better options this time of year.
Opinion: Wait for DVD