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Laramie Movie Scope:
A Monster Calls

A movie about death and mixed emotions

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 18, 2016 -- I thought this was an animated kids movie until I started watching it. It is mostly live action, with some animation, and it is definitely not a movie aimed at kids. It is a very thoughtful movie about death and about how morality is a lot more complicated than the way children, and some adults often view it.

It starts with a young boy, too old to be a child, and too young to be a man, troubled by his mother's declining illness (she is apparently suffering from cancer). He retreats into a childlike fantasy world, but is confronted there by a giant monster with the attitude of an adult, offering no magic solutions, no easy answers, just uncomfortable truths.

The young boy, Conor (played by Lewis MacDougall, 14, of “Pan”) is bullied in school, his father has moved to America (the film is set in England) and he doesn't get along with his dour, strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver of “GlaxyQuest”). He is feeling alone and anxious.

One night, he draws the figure of a giant monster (animated, with a voice provided by actor Liam Neeson) who suddenly appears, morphing out a large tree in the local cemetery, stomping into town and tearing into Conor's room. The monster tells Conor that he will return to tell him three stories, after which Conor must tell the monster the true story behind Conor's recurring nightmare about his mother.

In the nightmare, Conor is trying to save his mother (played by Felicity Jones of the recent “Star Wars” movies) when the earth opens up in the local graveyard, swallowing the church. Conor is desperately holding on to his mother's hand as she dangles over the chasm, but she is slipping away from him. You might think you know the meaning of this dream, but you probably don't.

The monster comes each night at 12:07 a.m. to tell Conor the three stories, which start out like standard fairy tales, but end up in a tangle of moral ambiguities. Who is the good character? Who is the villain? Who is the hero? The answers are not clear. The point is clear, however: People are complicated.

Through it all, Conor tries to deal with his own emotions, but it turns out the only one he can tell the truth to is the monster. Conor gets into trouble wrecking things at his grandmother's house, and attacking a boy at school who had been bullying him, but not exactly for the obvious reasons. Conor, too, is complicated.

What this amounts to is a kind of modern fairy tale that is really a psychological drama which largely takes place inside the mind of a young boy caught between childhood and adulthood. This film packs a powerful emotional punch. It is well acted and directed by J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”) and the screenplay is well written by Patrick Ness, based on his own novel.

The animation and computer graphics used for the monster related effects are very impressive. This is a very impressive and affecting movie. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)