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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Nov 3, 2016

A Monster Calls Movie Review: A Heartbreaking Story About Grief And Loss, Faith And Courage

WE’VE ALREADY seen two films so far this year about a child who has a supernatural creature for a friend. First was Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG”, where an orphan girl befriends a lonely giant. Sadly, it flopped at the tills. Then there’s Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”, a remake of a 70s film about an orphan boy and a fire-breathing dragon, which also did mediocre business at the box office.

Now comes “A Monster Calls”, based on the award-winning children’s book of Patrick Ness, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. This is directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who earlier did “The Impossible”, a movie about a family whose members get separated from each other after a killer tsunami strikes their holiday place in Thailand.

 The young hero is Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a lonely 12-year old boy who’s bullied in school and lives in a small town in England. His mom (Felicity Jones, who was just seen in “Inferno”) is stricken with a terminal illness and is separated from his dad (Toby Kebbell, Messala in the “Ben Hur” remake) who now lives in America with a new wife and child. His mom is preparing him to stay with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) after she is gone, but Conor resists the idea and is very hostile to his grandma.

After having a nightmare, Conor sees the ancient yew tree on a nearby churchyard springs into life and talks to him. The monstrous tree (voice by Liam Neeson) turns out to be a good storyteller and says he will tell Conor three stories, but he requires Conor to later on tell the story about his own nightmare that the boy wants to keep to himself.

The stories are told in beautiful water color illustrations. The first one concerns a prince who kills his own bride and still gets well loved by his people. The second story is about an apothecary and a parson who has no faith. The third one is about an invisible man who will later on reflect Conor’s own feeling of being invisible himself.

The singular message of the seemingly ambiguous stories is that people are not always good or bad but somewhere in between. “There’s not always a good guy”, says the monster tree. Conor’s turn to tell his own story and thereby face his own fears is the film’s climactic finale which is beautifully and breathtakingly staged on the big screen.

The film is not your typical escapist fantasy movie but carries a valid message that deals with issues exploring grief, courage and faith. If you’re the type who easily gets affected by sentimental tales, be sure to bring some tissue paper when you watch this film about coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. It doesn’t have any melodramatic twists in its plotting but just plain heartbreakingly true emotions with a tinge of melancholy. The fantasy elements are spectacularly rendered with first rate visual computer imagery and even the stunning animated portions are all convincingly presented with great imagination.

The child actor who plays the lead role is not the usual overly cute boy we see in movies, but Lewis MacDougall is very believable as the boy who is going through a very difficult period in his life. He certainly interacts well with everyone: his dying mom, his caring grandma, even with his absentee father who asks him to visit him in the U.S. But his best scenes, of course, are with the monster tree (done using a green screen) and it’s to Liam Neeson’s credit that he does great voice acting in the part.

One of the best scenes in the movie is when, out of pent up anger and spite, Conor destroys his grandma’s sitting room, including a much treasured antique clock that has survived generations. When his grandma comes later and sees what he has done, there is no exchange of words at all, but you can feel the thick layer of pain and anguish in both characters in their very emotional journey. We’re hoping this movie, that has something to convey to viewers of all ages, will find its audience and subsequently reward it at the box office.