A Monster Calls is something of a curious hybrid, but it's the bravest to grace the multiplex for some time. We've become used to CGI characters dishing out life lessons through thinly veiled subtexts. It's not that there's no merit to the Zootopias and Toy Stories, but it softens the blow of any heavier themes when there are caricatures going through the darker experiences. What makes A Monster Calls courageous is, not only are the life lessons dealt by the eponymous Monster (abeit CGI) but also that the lessons being learned are not overly mushy or positive. There is something good to take from it's subject, but it's honest enough to not sugar-coat, lest the potential is squandered. Instead A Monster Calls is a spirited and gallant attempt to examine grief and the carriage of emotion it pulls in it's wake.
The fortitude of A Monster Calls continues in it's firmness to careen between being a film for both children and adults. While it's certainly about a young boy processing the terminal illness of his mother, it's also about a person that doesn't know what the emotions he's enduring are, much less how to deal with them. Where most children's films would be about the acceptance of loss and the catharsis it rewards, this is actually about accepting what you feel first and foremost - no matter how ugly it may seem at first.
Liam Neeson's Monster appears to Connor at his lowest ebb and announces that he will tell 3 stories to the boy. After which Connor is to share his "truth". In a beguilingly frustrating turn, the monster does not appear to be a friend to Connor, but more a guide. The allegorical stories are beautiful composites of watercolor born into 3D, and while it's clear that they share a connection with Connor's struggle, the direct link is not too obvious. Oddly, again, the manipulation is a sincere one that adds a third layer of narrative which lingers through the entirety of A Monster Calls. Thankfully, our monster isn't relegated to only delivering yarns, not only does he pop up stylistically in the tales he tells, he also takes to effecting the world he and Connor share. His first introduction is an ember-exhaling fury, as he crashes through the bedroom wall. Later he helps to exercise anger in a vandelising outburst. Later still, he appears as a release in the most conflicting purge of emotion in recent memory. Yet for all the bombast, the relationship between them is elegantly told and only serves to deliver it's powerful message in the third act.
It's an alliance uncommon in a film just as much for children as it is adults. More than just a boy and his monster, or a simple imaginary friend that leads the way, there's a heavy but rewarding poignancy to the relationship. While it may offer an experience darker than most parents are comfortable with at first, by the end of the journey it offers a much more valuable legacy to anyone, regardless of age.
5* - Man's Labrynth