The ambiguity of some children’s stories has already been noted, children and teens are whisked away from horrid or bland realities into fantastical realms and amazing adventures. Did Dorothy hallucinate Oz after a head injury? Did Alice dream Wonderland? Did a dank wardrobe provide the greatest escapism from the war for the Narnia kids? Was a neglected, malnourished and bullied teen who lived under the stairs really a great wizard?

That theme continues, to an extent, with A Monster Calls. Without having seen the poster or read any sort of synopsis, I had assumed that the title connoted some sort of horror/thriller, something with Halle Berry or Anthony Hopkins. To my surprise, it turns out it is a British movie about grief, depression, loss, with a Charlie Bucket-type kid with a bowl cut and everything suffering as his mother battles terminal illness and nears the end of her life. It’s About a Boy minus Hugh Grant. Picture it. Just picture it. It’s a kid killing a duck with a loaf of bread, without any comical reaction, maybe guilty tears and duck death related suicide. It’s young Marcus, living alone with his ill mother, bullied terribly at school without some prostitute-banging British charmer to save the day and take a freeze-frame basketball or orange to the head for maximum hilarity. His father also lives in America with another family. And the award for Most Disheartening Film has been claimed.

Conor, Marcus, Charlie Bucket (what happened to Charlie Bucket, by the way?), would be a school shooter waiting to happen. Fortunately then, the film is set in the U.K. where our gun laws directly correlate with low gun crime. Who would have figured? I can’t say that I wouldn’t enjoy shooting a gun in a shooting range if we had them, but we don’t. Seriously though, We Need To Talk About Connor. Reccuring nightmares plague the pale skinny boy as he copes with a young dying mother, school problems, and an absent father. It is a difficult film, in many ways, to sit through. Lewis MacDougall excels in ripping us apart emotionally as poor Conor, though, marking a powerful performance.

Patrick Ness’ screenplay and novel follow Conor as recurring nightmares plague him, with a monster in the form of an angrier Treebeard, essentially, waking him one night. Over the course of the film, the monster must tell the boy three stories, or fairy tales which are artfully animated in a similar style to that of The Tale of the Three Brothers from Harry Potter, and demands that Conor tells him a final story. Without revealing too much, the stories offer a way for Conor to cope with his current problems, problems that would crush most adults, let alone a child.

Liam Neeson provides the voice of depression personified, the tree monster, and for the most part the cast consists of well-known British actors, not including Sigourney Weaver as Conor’s gran. Beautifully shot and edited and with a saddening score, A Monster Calls is bound to pull at the heart-strings of those with the coldest, deadest hearts. There is no Hugh Grant to save this kid, no quirky teacher about to show him the light, no parent to take up responsibility. For those reasons, it is not an easy watch, yet a must-watch, emotionally draining right up to its final twist. As for the ambiguity, whether the monster is real or whether it’s all in his head, well, that’s for you to find out.


The Film Fanatic