A Monster Calls

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Monster Calls Movie Poster Image
Heartrending adaptation explores the enormity of grief.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 108 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 15 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Many messages here, but the main one is that humans are complicated. The monster's tales reveal the complexity of humanity: "Good" people can do horrible things; people's decisions and mistakes have consequences; no one is all good or all bad; diseases kill the innocent; children lose their parents, but they can still live on. Stresses the overwhelming and unconditional love between parents and children. It also shares the idea that what you think (intentions) isn't as important what you do (action). Themes include compassion and courage.

Positive role models & representations

Conor is going through some of the most painful things a child can experience. He has big, complicated feelings, which sometimes explode out of him -- making him both realistically flawed and extremely relatable and sympathetic. The Monster is there to help Conor but takes a "tough love" approach to doing it; he often seems harsh and cruel. Conor's mum loves and supports him while also trying to shield him from the worst of her sickness. His grandmother isn't particularly warm, but she steps in to care for Conor during a difficult time. Conor's dad does his best to help his son in his own way.

Violence

Many scenes of devastating grief, anger, and sadness. Conor's recurring dream includes peril and destruction. The Monster is large, loud, and intimidating; young children will likely find him terrifying. The Monster's tales (animated) can get quite violent: A prince's beloved maiden is bloodily killed, a witch has evil intentions for her late husband's kingdom, a vicar's beloved children die, and an apothecary refuses to treat sick people. Conor is bullied -- pushed, kicked, slapped, stepped on, etc.; later he fiercely assaults his main attacker. Conor also utterly destroys his grandmother's living room, including a treasured heirloom. In some of the stories, the Monster destroys a home or punishes the unfaithful.

Sex

In the Monster's first story (which is animated), two silhouetted characters make love under a tree; nothing graphic is shown.

Language

"Dammit," "a--hole," "stupid," "idiotic," "by God."

Consumerism

Volvo, Lladro figurines.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

An adult drinks wine with a meal.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Monster Calls is the powerful, emotionally wrenching adaptation of award-winning author Patrick Ness' heartbreaking young adult novel about a 13-year-old boy dealing with his mother's terminal illness and sudden visits from a loud, scary storytelling tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). The animated stories within the story are frequently bloody, and all have unexpected lessons about humans' complexity. There's infrequent language (one "dammit," etc.), as well as some schoolyard violence -- Conor is picked on by a relentless bully who physically and verbally abuses him (and one day, Conor fiercely reciprocates). Conor also destroys his grandmother's living room and has a terrifying recurring nightmare about a horrible disaster that nearly kills him and his mum. Many scenes feature upsetting, overwhelming sadness as Conor comes to terms with his mother's mortality and his own complicated feelings about what's happening. For families dealing with loss or grief, this film could help kids acknowledge and express what they're going through, but despite themes of compassion and courage, it can be very difficult to watch. Bring tissues.

User Reviews

Adult Written bynduns January 12, 2017

Beautiful

This is a very beautiful film. It has a great message to it, great direction, great acting, great everything. That said, though, while I do recommend taking k...
Parent Written by BC G. January 9, 2017

Caution for parents of sensitive kids- Very Depressing

We should have read more about this movie before seeing it, it was spur of the moment. This is a very high quality movie with lots to see visually, and deep sub...
Teen, 13 years old Written byTHFP December 23, 2016

A Heartwarming Story

If you're into dramatic movies, then A Monster Calls is definitely a must see film. The phenomenal story of a boy named Conor, who deals with great pain, i...
Teen, 13 years old Written byJackFrost80 January 8, 2017

Terrible for Children to View

I went to see this movie today, it had great acting and cinematography, but I was going to watch this hoping for a great kids movie. It was nothing like that. I...

What's the story?

A MONSTER CALLS is based on Patrick Ness' award-winning novel about 13-year-old British boy Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who lives with and cares for his very ill single mother (Felicity Jones). Bullied at school, artistic Conor begins to receive nightly visits from a huge monster that transforms from the ancient yew tree behind his house. The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) calls on the boy at exactly 12:07 am and lets him know that he'll tell Conor three stories and then expects one in return -- but it must be the truth. Angry at both the Monster's morality tales and his mother's worsening condition, Conor retaliates against his bullies, his father (Toby Kebbell) visiting from America, and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) before things finally come to a devastating climax.

Is it any good?

Author Ness penned this adaptation of his own novel, which is as poignant as his beautiful book and features brilliant performances by Jones, MacDougall, and Neeson. Director J.A. Bayona is no stranger to depicting intense mother-child dynamics. His 2012 historical drama The Impossible captured a mother and son's fraught post-tsunami journey; in A Monster Calls, there's just as treacherous a disaster looming over every interaction between Conor and his beloved mum -- the unspoken cancer that's eating away at her slowly but surely.

MacDougall gives one of the finest youth performances of 2016 as angry, sad, confused Conor, who's hoping beyond hope that his mum will get better but who also knows (as the Monster's visits and stories symbolize) that the inevitable is on its way -- and who's desperately afraid to admit that tangled up with anticipatory grief is a sense of possible relief. Jones is also wonderful as a mother who desperately wishes she had "100 years to give" her son but knows it's not a possibility. But the heart of the film isn't simply Conor and his mother but Conor and the Monster, and Neeson's spectacular rendering of the yew-tree creature is both frightening and comforting. As he tells Conor, the truth, like people, is complicated and even contradictory, but it's what you need to face to move forward.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the messages of A Monster Calls. What is the monster trying to teach Conor? How do his stories surprise the boy? What does he learn?

  • Do you consider the movie violent? Scary? What parts upset you, and why?

  • Why is it so difficult for Conor to admit how he's feeling about his mum? How do things change after he finally expresses himself? Have you ever felt afraid to tell others about what you were thinking/feeling? Why?

  • How does the movie promote courage and compassion? Why are those important character strengths?

  • How faithful is the movie to the spirit of the book? What changes were made? Do you agree with the filmmakers' decisions to omit or add elements? Do you feel differently about the movie knowing Ness wrote the screenplay?

Movie details

Character Strengths

See which skills this movie can help your kid develop.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love books and movies

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate