(I’m running a bit behind with this post, but yesterday’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a prose poem in the vein of a postcard, so I wrote one that I think everyone would like to receive.)
Hello, my love,
It’s as wonderful here as we always hoped,
But I miss you terribly, as I know you miss me.
Don’t despair that you couldn’t join me just yet;
I’ve saved you a place next to me
And can’t wait to show you everything I’ve seen.
Hope all is well at home, with life whirling on without me.
I’m just fine here, thank you very much.
Wish you were here (but not too soon)!
Love from Heaven,
MPAA rating: PG-13 (only for heavy themes, content is closer to PG)
Based on a novel by Peter Ness (who also wrote the movie), A Monster Calls is a strange beast, a deeply emotional dark fantasy that contrasts a young boy’s fears about mortality with seemingly random lessons taught by a giant tree monster (Liam Neeson). Making a tree monster work as more than just a visual boogeyman is no small task, and chances are that you’ll be surprised at just how much poignancy this concept holds.
The boy of this story is Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), an oft-bullied twelve-year-old who is plagued by a nightmare and dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) worsening cancer. One night, the yew tree on a nearby hill comes to life like Groot on steroids and promises to tell him three stories, after which Connor must tell “the truth” in a story of his own. At first, Connor refuses, then thinks perhaps these stories are meant to help him with his critical grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) or his distant father (Toby Kebbell), yet the fairy tales told to him elude easy explanation and challenge the way he faces his own grief.
There’s something timeless about this story. Until Connor used a smartphone, I couldn’t tell in what year it was set. The tone, the music, the warm cinematography, the subtle direction by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible and the next Jurassic World sequel) all lend themselves to a sense of dark enchantment and poetry that can swing from quite creepy to quite profound in a matter of minutes, such as how major events repeatedly happen at 12:07. The stories told by the monster are depicted with a unique 3D watercolor-style animation, and while I might have liked them to be more straightforward in their lessons, they leave the viewer and Connor pondering their implications and applications.
The performances really help sell the film’s more fantastical elements, MacDougall especially proving himself to be a child actor worth watching. Anyone who has endured the death of a loved one should easily relate to Connor’s progression through the five stages of grief; at least I know I did. Jones and Weaver provide outstanding support as well. Following a shocking outburst, there’s one almost wordless scene between Connor and his grandmother in which the turmoil of emotions on their faces is intensely felt, making me wonder why this movie was largely ignored by the major awards.
I had a feeling that A Monster Calls would appeal to me, but its emotional depth sneaked up on me in ways you wouldn’t expect from a film with a giant tree monster. Despite its difficulties at the box office, I can see it being rediscovered in the coming years and hailed as a darkly imaginative classic.
Best line: (Connor) “So you didn’t get ‘happily ever after’?” (his dad) “No, but that’s life, you know. Most of us just get messily ever after. That’s all right.”
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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