Truthfully, there may not be much new to the narrative of the new movie A Monster Calls, based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness.
That doesn’t mean you should skip it.
The movie opens with young Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougal). He’s artistically-inclined, but seems to be living a lonely existence. His mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), is dying of a disease that is never really specified but sure looks like cancer. Conor himself seems to be in denial about the whole thing, though he’s having reoccurring nightmares about an old church surrounded by a cemetery on a hill overlooking his house being swallowed up by a sinkhole. His options aren’t great. He doesn’t really care much for his strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver doing a shaky British accent), he’s bullied badly at school, and his father (Toby Kebbell) moved to Los Angeles years before with a new wife and comes across as unreliable to his son.
But one night, at 12:07 AM, the large yew tree near the aforementioned church contorts, sprouts some legs, and comes stomping down the hill to talk to Conor. The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson, though Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland did some of the motion capture) informs Conor that he will tell the boy three stories, after which Conor must tell one of his own and that is must be true.
The stories are actually incredible to see. Animated in a style that looks like living watercolors, the stories tell tales that look on the outside like fairy tales but often have plots Conor finds make no sense. Adult viewers may get a better idea of what’s going on, but it doesn’t work out for a kid like Conor. Much of the film deals with Conor coming to terms with his mother’s illness, and whether or not the monster is actually helping him do so or is after something else. Conor sees the world the way an angry child no doubt does; however, the movie itself doesn’t go for that angle. Regardless of the relationship Conor has with his father or grandmother, neither are exactly presented as villains, and while the monster is itself incredible to look at, this isn’t a movie for easy answers.
Truthfully, I don’t think there was anything new to this story, and much of what it has as an underlying theme was told more simply in Kubo and the Two Strings. The truth behind Conor’s nightmare is probably not going to surprise anybody, but then again, much of this story looks familiar. Despite the familiarity, it is a film that is artfully told, and that elevates it quite a bit. MacDougal (who got top billing in the opening credits ahead of Weaver and Jones) needs to carry the movie more or less on his own, and he does the job well. Ness adapted his own novel, and director J.A. Bayona does well telling the story visually. I may have seen much of this sort of thing before, but I really liked what I saw while I saw it. Eight and a half smashed sitting rooms out of ten.