ReelBob: A Monster Calls

By Bob Bloom

For a child, nothing is probably more devastating or frightening than the loss of a parent.

Most of us cannot imagine the psychological trauma wrought upon that youngster.

Such a nightmarish scenario is the crux of “A Monster Calls,” a dark and imaginative feature, written by Patrick Ness and directed by J.A. Boyana.

Conor is in total denial about his mother’s prognosis. Despite several treatments, she is continuing to deteriorate. No medicine can halt the disease ravaging her body.

Conor, however, holds steadfast, believing the next medication will reverse his mother’s condition.

Not only is Conor having a difficult time at home, but he also has problems at school, where he is bullied and beaten daily — all of which he hides from his mother.

The boy’s only outlet for his anger and frustration are his drawings.

One night, one of Conor’s sketches — that of an ancient tree at the back of the cemetery atop a hill near his home — comes to life and leads Conor on an odyssey in which he learns lessons about faith, courage and — most importantly — truth.

The Monster tells Conor three stories — parables, really — that the boy does not fully understand. The Monster also tells Conor that the boy must, after the trio of tales, reveal his dreams to the Monster and explain their meaning — something that Conor continually resists.

“A Monster Calls” is not an easy movie for children to watch because Boyana refuses to ease the pain and turmoil that is evident in Conor.

We suffer along with the child, as he deals with the overwhelming weight of what lies ahead.

Adding to Conor’s turmoil is the arrival of his grandma, whom he dislikes, and who — in no uncertain terms — tells Conor that he will be living with her and must — without question — follow the rules of her house.

Young Lewis MacDougall does an excellent job portraying Conor’s alienation from those around him and the guilt and concern he feels about his mother.

Add to that, his interaction with a motion-capture Liam Neeson as the Monster, and you get a performance that rings vulnerably true.

Felicity Jones plays Conor’s mother, whose artistic bent was passed down to her son.

Sigourney Weaver, at first, is unsympathetic as Conor’s grandma, but as the film progresses, her compassion and pain for the fate of not only her daughter, but her grandson, become evident.

“A Monster Calls” is a mostly gloomy fairy tale. Boyana keeps the film’s palette gray and dank, almost suffocating in its bleakness.

Yet, the feature offers a ray of hope that, even in the direst of times, love and family are balms that, while not erasing pain, can at least help assuage it.

Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

3½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), scary images, violence, mature themes