"A Monster Calls" is a weirdly, distastefully Christophobic film.
Conor, an adorable little English boy (Lewis MacDougall) is very sad because he is bullied in school and his mother has cancer. His father lives in LA and is married to someone else and has another child. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) appears cold and controlling. Conor is artistic and he likes to escape from his sad life by drawing.
One night, Conor is visited by a talking tree (Liam Neeson). The tree promises to tell Conor stories that will help him with the burdens he faces in life.
That's pretty much all that happens in the film. The film doesn't go deep into the pain a child feels when he watches his mother go from being a bit pale to being bedridden and bald. It doesn't do much of anything with Conor's heartbreaking relationship with his absentee father. It doesn't delve into the complexities of bullying. Why do the bullies behave so badly? How can bullied kids change their situation? The film doesn't even ask these questions, never mind answer them. The film doesn't explore or articulate Conor's relationship to art. Conor is at the age when romantic love first rears its head. Conor cuddles in bed with his mom, but he doesn't seem to see or be seen by any romantic prospects.
The talking tree promises to tell Conor stories that will help him in life. The stories are animated and narrated by Neeson. The animation is lovely. It is pen and ink and watercolor. The watercolor splashes colorfully across the screen.
The thing is, the tree's stories suck. They are boring and pointless. There isn't much going on in this movie, and the stories, which are promised to be profound, are just painful to listen to.
I did cry watching this movie. I think you'd have to have a heart of stone not to cry watching a lad deal with such depressing life circumstances. But the film is so underdeveloped that I left the theater feeling unsatisfied.
The one thing the movie does do and does with great efficiency. The film bashes Christianity. Watching this movie, I had to ask myself, what is going on in England? Why does England hate Christianity so much? Why are Christophobic themes so prominent in English films, from the creepy clergyman Mr. Collins in every new iteration of "Pride and Prejudice" to this film, which opens with a scene of a church crumbling into the earth?
One of the stories the tree tells is about a bad bad bad bad English clergyman, maybe even as bad as Mr. Collins, who is disrespectful to an herbal healer. I mean, come on. The herbal healer gets revenge against the bad clergyman in a really vicious way, and the film celebrates that. To make everything crystal clear, in the animated portion, the clergyman is shown with a giant white cross on his bad bad very bad no good chest.
This film creeped me out. It uses the most poignant of life circumstances to bash Christianity. How exploitative and nasty.
On the plus side: Young actor Lewis MacDougall is beyond spectacular in this role. He gives one of the great child actor performances of all time. This kid, I hope, is going places.