A Monster Calls (Blu-ray)

March 23, 2017 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I admit it. I will. I’m guilty of it. I judge books by their covers. Well, in this case I judge a movie by its slipcover. While rummaging through my stack of “to be reviewed” films and those that I have reviewed, my wife demanded I “clean up this mess”. So as part of my sorting process, I came across a disc I’d gotten about a month ago that I had totally forgotten about. What a problem to have! But I’d had a few hours and I’d heard good things, so I popped in A Monster Calls and was instantly taken with the movie. Based on Patrick Ness’s novel of the same name, it’s a more adult take on the classic fairytale. Certainly there are some more adult-oriented themes within, but I feel that’s part of the allure. One thing we learn as we grow up – life isn’t easy and not everyone always lives happily ever after.

Single mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and her son, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) isn’t sure how to deal with it. He’s both desperate to save his mom, but frightened at the prospect of losing her and, as a result, becomes socially isolated from his friends at school. He’s bullied, but has always relied on his mother, who he also helps take care of. There’s some limited help from his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and none from his father (Toby Kebbell). Conor is awakened one night by a tree-like monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who looks more like an evil version of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. He promises to tell Conor three stories, at the end of which it will be his responsibility to reveal a hidden truth. In spite of his fear of the monster, Conor sees these stories as a way that might save his mother from death.

This is an odd, but rather interesting premise for a film. On one hand it has all the elements of a bedtime story, but it’s just scary and edgy enough that it’s not one you’ll want to tell the little ones. I do have to admit that Liam Neeson’s voice is perfect as the monster and seeing Felicity Jones in this role gives her an oddly human quality. This is the kind of film that they don’t make too much of anymore, a human drama with a supernatural element tied in. There’s an underlying message in there, for sure, but you have to look for it. The performances are all top notch and we might be on the lookout for young Lewis MacDougall – it’s not often you can go toe to toe with an Academy Award nominated actress and hold your own. A Monster Calls is an overlooked gem that’s well worth checking out.

Video: How’s it look?

Universal’s 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer of this film is, by and large, very good. It’s a new to Blu-ray film that takes advantage of the format, it’s definition and clarity. There are several dark scenes in the movie, but I felt that the image held up surprisingly well. The “monster”, as I’d mentioned above, looks like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, so if you can draw any comparisons there. It’s not all CGI though, and does tend to have more of a realistic appearance than our Marvel-friend. Colors are a bit on the muted side, though it’s not distracting at all. Simply put, it’s a good-looking transfer that only falls just short of perfection.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Comparatively, the included DTS HD Master Audio mix is very active, featuring an engaging mix. Vocals are rich and pure, directional effects (particularly during the third act) are used with great impact and it makes for a very satisfying track. The LFE even have a few moments to shine as well. This is one of the rare instances in which the audio outshines the video for a new to Blu-ray film. A fine effort indeed.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – Director J.A. Bayona delivers a commentary track…in Spanish! Yes, don’t worry if you’re not flulent, subtitles have been provided for us who speak English. All of the bases are covered here with details on the shoot, the production as a whole and the varied ensemble cast.
  • Audio Commentary – If you’re looking for a more straight-forward track, then Patrick Ness’s is the one to listen to. In it he discusses how he came up with the story, how it made the transition to screen and so forth. With due respect to Bayona, I preferred this track.
  • The Making of A Monster Calls – Broken into five different segments, we get the cast and crew as they discuss the story, the themes, casting the movie, working with the filmmaker, and how they brought the tree monster to life.
  • Making of the Tales – Absent on the vocals, this is a pretty rough look at how some of the stories were constructed and then put into the final cut of the film.
  • Deleted Scenes – Five total, none really add anything to the story.
  • Trailers – Trailers for other Universal titles.

The Bottom Line

I feel that this is a film that will get overlooked by many, as it did with me. Truthfully, I found it very enjoyable with strong all-around performances. The Blu-ray both looks and sounds good and it’ll likely be in the bargain bin at Best Buy in no time at all. Pick it up if it is.

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