A Monster Calls (2016)

(On Cable TV, October 2017) There’s an interesting twist at play in A Monster Calls, in which a young boy’s grief for his terminally ill mother is explored through spectacular use of fantasy imagery. It’s not a genre fantasy film per se (in that you can argue for a rational interpretation if you try hard enough), but it’s certainly a drama enhanced with genre elements. The downside of such a distinction is that the film is never as dull as when it’s strictly realist—it’s when the story goes on imaginary tangents and a gigantic yew tree starts intervening in the plot that A Monster Calls is at its best. The stories told to the boy are executed though very stylized animation, and those moments are the highlights of the film … until the ending, in which fiction, dreams and strong emotional reactions all come together in a big catharsis of a conclusion. The art direction of the film is spectacular in those fantasy sequences, and the way the 3D art seamlessly blends itself in scene transitions is reminiscent of the best that 2D animation had to offer. Acting-wise, Liam Neeson impresses with a strong vocal performance at the tale-spinning tough-love tree. Otherwise, director J.A. Bayona’s skill in balancing the various components of A Monster Calls are on display here, all culminating in a conclusion much stronger than the rather pedestrian set-up would initially suggest. 

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