HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: A Monster Calls
HTS Overall Score:86
Most of us think of fairytales as your typical G or PG rated film that teaches morality lessons under the guise of singing Disney crabs or about princes facing down dragons. Very few of us remember when a fairy tale was a very harsh and bitter story that was covered in a thin layer of sweetness to make the pain of the lesson more palatable. “A Monster Calls” harkens back to those types of stories. Instead of using cloyingly sweet stories to entertain young children, it uses the harshness of life and the pain of reality to weave in a sweet story that will have you bawling your eyes out at the very end (I know these guys need to stop cutting onions in the film!). Even though it has a PG-13 rating, “A Monster Calls” maintains a strong tie in with the child like world. Something that may not be as shocking as one would expect when you realize that adults don’t have a monopoly on complex emotions and pain. Especially the pain of losing someone you love.
Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a scrawny young boy who is having to deal with something that no child this young should ever have to. His mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer and there is nothing that he can do about it. She’s been taking experimental medication for months but there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of hope. Everyone around her can see it. Everyone but Conor that is, who steadfastly assures himself and everyone he comes in contact with that she’ll get better. However, his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) wants him to come live with her so that when the inevitable end comes he’ll be taken care of, but Conor refuses to let anyone tell him anything will end that tragically. So exhausted and hurting so badly, Conor imagines that the giant tree outside of their country cottage comes to life and offers to tell him three stories. The first about a price and an evil queen, the second a story of an apothecary and a parson, and the third of an invisible man who gets tired of being invisible.
Each and every one of the stories has a purpose. None of them make sense to the young boy, but each and every one has a meaning. After each lesson learned from the story Conor comes closer and closer to accepting the truth of his mother’s death. The delusion of a giant tree helping him cope with the pain of coming to grips with the raw pain of life. As the tales progress, so does Conor’s anger, and the resulting destruction that happens in his own life begins to mirror the destruction happening within the stories themselves. Culminating with Conor having to tell the tree monster (voiced impeccably by Liam Neeson) his own personal story. A nightmare that just doesn’t end.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=94218[/img]I honestly have no idea how a little fairy tale about a boy and walking tree monster could have me crying so hard by the end. Honestly, I should have seen it coming though. While the story was written (both screenplay and novel) from a small book by Patrick Ness, it was directed by Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who has directed not only the disaster/thriller “The Impossible”, but also Guillermo del Toro produced Spanish horror film “The Orphanage” (which is an amazing flick by the way). More European styled than “The Orphanage”, “A Monster Calls” bears some striking resemblances to “Pan’s Labyrinth” than you would expect. Including the raw savagery of reality intertwining its way into what seems like a simple fairy tale. Bayona has you completely safe in the reality that we KNOW the fairytale is all in Conor’s head, but dances around with enough of the idea that there is some truth to his visions that you even doubt whether THAT is true by the very end.
At its core “A Monster Calls” is a heartbreaking story about a kid having to reconcile with the fact that he’s going to lose his mother. The fantasy elements of the story are mere window dressing, visual aids if you like, to allow the viewer to be absorbed into the mind of young Conor. We’re seeing life through his eyes, his pain, coping mechanisms, and the all of the simplicity that a child views the world through (and complexities as well). It’s a simple tale, but one that is more complex and HARDER than you would expect for a seemingly simple childs story. While there are several good performances throughout the movie this is really all about Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson, both who give fantastic performances. Neeson with his rasping voice, able emote great feeling with each gravely word spoken, and MacDougall absolutely outdoes himself with one of the best instances of child acting I’ve seen in years.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content and some scary images
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=94226[/img]Universal’s 2.40:1 AVC encode Blu-ray is nothing short of NEAR perfection. Graded with an array of differing hues depending on the scene at hand, the image sparkles with some really nice detail that can sometimes be razor sharp and very neutrally graded, to covered in an amber hue with soft highlights and flickering shadows. The CGI used for the monster is awe inspiring, with every leaf, twig and craggy bark covered sinew of his “flesh” incredibly accurate and detailed. The glowing red of the eyes and the flames inside his body make for a shocking contrast to the dark brown and black covered back, and the little things, like leaves on the ground, or mud on Conor’s boot, looks picture perfect. There’s some softness in a few scenes, and some of the color grading can get a bit muted at times, but “A Monster Calls” still stands as an excellent encode.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=94234[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track actually ALMOST outdoes the stellar video. I wasn’t expecting whole lot considering that the movie is basically a drama, but the track REALLY brings the goods I have to admit. Every time Liam Neeson talks as the monster you can just feel the raw, throbbing power that his voice permits, and every sound of the monster moving is incredibly nuanced and diverse. When his limbs move the earth shakes, when his body shifts you can hear individual creaks and cracks of the branches. Leaves whisper as they brush against stone walls, the wind whistles in the back of the sound stage with a soft, but diverse array of differing tones. Vocals are always crisp and clear, and there is plenty of activity at all times, even in the quieter more dramatic scenes. It's a very impressive audio track that sounds leaps and bounds better than the small budgeted film was expected to have. Well done Universal.
• The Making of A Monster Calls
• Making of the Tales
• English Feature Commentary with Writer Patrick Ness
• Spanish Feature Commentary with Director J.A. Bayona
I wasn’t sure what to expect from watching the trailers this October, but I am absolutely floored by what we got. Bayona doesn’t direct a whole lot of feature films, but when he does he knocks them all out of the park. To this day “The Orphanage” is one of the best foreign horror movies I’ve seen, and “The Impossible” was an incredibly powerful disaster drama. “A Monster Calls” is right up there with “The Orphanage” for me, and a movie that is both sweet and bitter at the same time. I wouldn’t say that this is a movie you’re going to be popping in for the kiddies to watch on a Saturday morning, but it is a compelling drama that appeals to people of all ages. The Blu-ray contains some stellar technical specifications and the only weak link in the entire package is the rather “middle of the road” array of extras. Still, a fantastic watch and well worth getting.
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Lewis MacDougall
Directed by: J. A. Bayona
Written by: Patrick Ness (both Novel and Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DTS 5.1
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: March 28th, 2017
Buy A Monster Calls On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Great Watch
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