In The Still Of The Night

A Monster Calls
Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Toby Kebbell,  Felicity Jones,  Sigourney Weaver, James Melville, Geraldine Chaplin and (voice over) Liam NeesonDirector: J. A Bayona
Scriptwriter: Patrick Ness from his book and an original idea from Siobhan Dowd
Composer: Fernando Velazquez
Cinematographer: Oscar Faura
Focus Features
Rating: PG 13 for bullying and themed material including an ill parent
Running Length: 110 minutes 

With a title such as “A Monster Calls,” one would think this film would be of the five-teenagers-in-a-stalled-car-in-the-woods variety, but no,  this film is probably the best one of 2016. This film has a heart and tells a story of bullying, illness, adults caught up in their own worlds and a friend in a unusual place. The idea for the story comes from the late Siobhan Dowd,  whom Patrick Ness befriended and then wrote the book. The film is being released now, after the dazzle of Christmas Day films have settled into theaters and audiences are looking for something new. In my years of entertainment reviewing, I believe this is the first year that I have given so many films a “Four Tock” rating. “A Monster Calls” is one of them. Bring hanky. 

We enter the world of Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), who regularly has nightmares of the earth falling beneath him and he trying to save someone.  Conor's parents Lizzie (Felicity Jones from “Rogue One” and you won't recognize her) and Toby Kebbell are porced. Conor lives with his mother, with visits from his rather cold grandmother (Sigourney Weaver in a great role.) Lizzie is a creative woman and with her help, Conor blossoms as an artist. However, when at school, he is the object of bullying from Harry (James Melville) which results in being regularly beaten up. Conor bears it quietly, but in the privacy of his room is frustrated and angry. Lizzie is also terminally ill, though care is taken to keep her real condition from Conor, and he becomes suspicious when Dad begins to pay more attention to the family and Grandmother spends more time, there, also. After a particularly stressful time, Conor is visited by a giant creature (well voiced by Liam Neeson) who appears at 12:07 a.m. outside Conor’s bedroom window. What to do? Well, screaming won't help, so maybe talking to the creature?  Conor is presented with three stories, after which, he must tell the monster his own story. Not that easy and we view the monster’s stories through art work and each story has a point. And those nightmares? In the meantime, Dad wants Conor to come and live with him, Grandmother, whose gaze could melt steel, wants Conor to live with her, and Mom stays in her bed. Conor has to deal with school situations by himself and the rage inside comes out. Does anyone notice? Someone does. 

Cinematography for “A Monster Calls” is lush and well done. As the film progresses, the movie-goers can emphasize with all of the characters. Each one has their own story concerning Conor, but at some point, he must mature. Young actor, Lewis MacDougall does this very well, in a range of emotions from sadness to anger to moments of happiness. Sigourney Weaver has the difficult role of being a competent person in caring for someone ill, but not in reaching out to her grandson. This is a long bridge to cross. Felicity Jones, as Lizzie, presents us with warmth and love and a certain longing. Liam Neeson’s voice as the Monster has just the right intonation to tell stories and someday, perhaps, there will be an award for just such work. 

Having someone within your main family unit become seriously ill and there is nothing you can do about it, is told in this unusual storyline. Doctors, hospitals, experimental medicines, and all the time the clock is ticking. Time is valuable to both the patient and the family. 

The subject of bullying is well presented and you wonder about the mind set of someone who views anyone smaller and younger as inferior. Parents and teachers are on the outside here, and it comes down to between the two individuals.  Just as that is a ticking clock, so is 12:07 a.m. and a rumble outside your bedroom window. Adolescence is not always fun and games. Be sure not to look away from the screen during the last five minutes of the film.


Copyright 2016 Marie Asner