I hit a reviewing dry spell ever since the new year hit. It’s like one of those midlife crisis I hear that older people get where they question all of their life decisions and agonize over whether or not they’re any good at life. That was me with movie reviewing.
It didn’t help that I got to see some of my favorite movies of 2016 again, and some of them got worse the second time I watched them, causing me to anxiously figure out if I’m a terrible movie reviewer who doesn’t practice what he preaches. And then Underworld: Blood Wars came out, and I could feel the dispassion in my writing voice as I tried to critique a movie I didn’t care was bad.
What I needed was a movie that I felt strongly about.
It didn’t matter if it was a horrendous movie that angered me or an amazing movie that floored me. Either way, I was almost certain that I wouldn’t get it from this movie or Hidden Figures.
So I ran a twitter poll to see whether or not I was gonna see yet another race relations movie or another sanitized YA snooze fest.
A Monster Calls, the latter category, won.
It turned out to be far from a snooze fest.
The story follows a trouble young boy named Connor. The actor who plays him, Lewis MacDougall, portrays an awkward, troubled, sad boy rather well. There’s a thing that many child-centered movies do where they try to mask a child’s potentially awkward performance by making their weirdness and awkwardness part of their character.
An example of this done really well would be the children from Moonrise Kingdom. An example of this done extremely poorly would be Jake from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Connor’s character is another example of a character done really really well. His performance was absolutely fantastic and convincing for the vast majority of the time.
I say a vast majority because there were two or three split scenes where I could tell that his facial reactions to things was extremely off, like he was trying not to smile. However, considering the rest of his performance was astounding, I can’t find it in myself to fault him too much for this.
Every other character in this movie performs well. Yes, even Felicity Jones. I guess it was her character in Rogue One that was bad and not her. What fascinated me about this Young Adult movie is that it leaves room for every single character to be morally ambiguous. Every single character has their streaks of being unlikable; they also have opportunities to show warm, touching humanity. In fact, the movie seems to tackle this idea of every human being a different shade of gray in terms of morality.
What was even better about this movie is that it doesn’t shove this theme in your face; the movie allows you to make your own judgments about every character instead of seriously forcing you to feel one way or another about each and every character.
Yet another fantastic thing about this movie is that it frequently told the story through visuals rather than dialogue. This not only allowed for a more enriching story, but it also shows a great air of respect for their audience. There are very few scenes where they make things extremely obvious for you. It’s apparent enough so that kids don’t get lost, but it’s intelligent enough to not bore a more mature audience.
Usually, the most dialogue driven parts of the movie were from the scenes with the monster.
Speaking of the monster, I thought he was not only extremely well animated, but Liam Neeson does a fantastic job voicing him as well. The scenes with him felt very dreamlike, and it allowed for parts of the movie to have artistic elements.
And holy crap, is this movie ever sad. The benefit of all the visual and emotional storytelling is that it allows for an organic build-up of emotions. At one point of the movie, I actually ended up crying.
Do you know how many films have made me cry? There wasn’t a single film until I saw A Monster Calls.
The sadness felt so amazing in the film because the movie attempts to tackle their themes in a serious way, and not just in a quick and cheap way as if it’s only their to make you feel sorry for our lead character.
Aside from a few acting bumps from the lead protagonist, there’s also a few moments in the movie where the dialogue was either extremely cliche or lacking in flow. These moments are also few and far between, but they’re there.
This film captured me emotionally. It is depressing, but it is also meaningful and respectful. It is almost completely fearless in how it attempts to portray the misery of this young boy. Finally, because they used cinematography to tell the story so often, the feelings simply came to me naturally. This film is an absolute gem.
9 out of 10