By Sofia Jesus
It’s hard for me to think of something more disturbing than death. And, in particular, the eminent death of a loved one. But perhaps that something may be dealing with our most secret, dark feelings towards it — the ones we dare not to speak of; the ones we feel guilty about.
A Monster Calls (2016), by J. A. Bayona, deals with both. And it is a punch in the stomach.
It tells the story of a 12-year old boy called Conor O’Malley (beautifully interpreted by Lewis MacDougall) who receives the visit of a yew tree spirit monster when dealing with his single, terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones). The tree monster, which visits him frequently some time after midnight, offers to tell him three mysterious tales that are aimed at helping him in a way he doesn’t know yet. In exchange, the tree monster demands him to tell it a true story about himself after those three tales have been shared.
The amazing special effects that bring this huge tree to life and the simple animations that illustrate the three tales told by the monster are technically impressive, bringing elements of fantasy to a very human family drama.
While we are shaken around throughout the film thinking whether the monster-tree — voiced by Liam Neeson — is really just a product of the little boy’s imagination — a hint is given in the end — we are also gradually immersed in all the darkness of it, in all the pain. The boy’s; the mother’s; the grandmother’s (Sigourney Weaver).
I wouldn’t say this is a masterpiece of cinema. And I must agree with some critics that have argued that maybe the film tries to include too many problems a young man could face — such as being bullied at school or dealing with a father that moved away to start a new family abroad — when the eminent death of a mother would be quite enough. But the film did touched me deeply, violently.
Is it a children’s film? I don’t think so; I think is too frightening. Though it does try to teach an important message to them — to us all, actually: that things are never black and white; that there is not always a good guy, as the tree monster says.
I do not wish to spoil anything, but I must say after watching the film I was not only left crying, but also left unease, uncomfortable, again, as if punched in the stomach. For the truth the monster wants to grab hold of is too complex to grasp, too frightening to admit, and too real to feel.