Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a schoolboy with a talent for drawing and a miserable home-life. His mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill, he’s bullied daily by a sadistic contemporary (James Melville), and he’s scheduled to live with his prim, waspish grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) when the worst happens.
Conor is still coming around to the inevitability of that ‘when’. He’s convinced himself that it’s only a tiny ‘if’, but the adjustment to reality is happening whether he wants it or not, and his nightmares all involve the graveyard up the hill. It’s from this graveyard that the Monster uproots itself one night and makes its call, punching a hole in Conor’s bedroom wall and plucking him into the night.
Conor seems fairly unsurprised, considering. Not unsurprised in the way that children in films are routinely unsurprised by the fantastical (because children are uncynical and open to wonder, natch); he simply understands that it's a figment of his imagination. The Monster is soon established as a manifestation of Conor's own conscience or wisdom, a way for the grief-stricken boy to come to terms with his mother's approaching death. It's a gruff but benevolent inner-demon that wants only to help Conor reach the nirvana of all sentimental grief films: catharsis.
Handsome and watchable, the film is clever on the dark secret at the heart of grief (and on the complicated self-loathing that attends it), but it spells out its wisdom in very literal terms. By limiting the fantastical elements to hallucination or daydreaming, A Monster Calls demands interpretation rather than absorption. There's no magic – only therapy. It feels like its been made for well-meaning parents to foist upon children who'd prefer actual monsters to allegoric ones.
The Monster tells Conor riddling narratives on the basis that stories are therapeutic. Some are. This one isn’t.
|What||A Monster Calls film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
01 Jan 17 – 31 Jan 17, 12:00 AM
06 Jan 17 – 06 Mar 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|