A Monster Calls opens with 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) fast asleep in bed. The young boy is having a recurring nightmare in which he tries in vain to save his mother from falling.
We learn that Conor lives with his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones), while his overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) visits regularly. His sad life continues at school, where he is regularly bullied.
Things change one night when a large tree near the house transforms into a monster (voice of Liam Neeson), which comes to visit Conor. The monster tells Conor that he’ll return to tell him three stories, after which the boy must tell the monster a fourth story about the truth that he’s hiding – the truth behind his nightmares. As the movie unfolds, the monster tells the three stories, all of which touch on Conor’s problems. The movie’s climax is reached when Conor tells his own story, enabling him to finally confront his own fears and failings.
Terminal illness; death of a parent; grief; bullying
A Monster Calls has a range of violent scenes. Some are animated, but others involve main characters. For example:
- The movie has several scenes that show schoolyard bullying. Conor is pushed and falls, and his face slams into the ground. He’s also kicked, his hand is stamped on, and his face is slapped. He’s constantly taunted. Eventually he retaliates, repeatedly punching his tormentor. Later we hear that Conor’s attack has put the boy in hospital.
- There is footage of the black and white King Kong movie, with King Kong standing on top of the Empire State building being attacked by planes firing machineguns. The creature falls from the building.
- The movie has several surreal animations that show bloody, violent acts. Some of these acts involve fantasy creatures.
- Conor smashes furniture and ornaments. His grandmother walks in and sees the destruction, then pushes over a cabinet in anger and walks out of the room. Later the boy hears his grandmother crying.
- In one scene the monster rampages through a school cafeteria, sending tables and chairs flying and terrifying students.
- The monster shouts at Conor, ordering him to tell the truth. The boy refuses, saying that the truth will kill him. The monster tells the boy that not telling the truth will also kill him.
A Monster Calls includes some sexual references. For example, there are animations that refer to people sleeping together under a tree.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
A Monster Calls shows some use of substances. For example:
- When Conor’s mother has a seizure, she is given a drug that calms her.
- A man drinks wine at a restaurant.
- A bully tauntingly suggests that Conor is drunk.
Nudity and sexual activity
A Monster Calls has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- There is a surreal animated image of a man and woman kissing. In a later scene, a naked man kneels next to a sleeping woman.
- In one scene Conor’s mother is helped to undress. Her naked, bruised and emaciated back is exposed.
- A woman wears a low-cut top that reveals some cleavage.
Nothing of concern
A Monster Calls has some coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
A Monster Calls is a fantasy drama targeting teenagers and adults. It is an intensely emotional story of loss and grief, featuring an angry and confused 12-year-old boy whose mother has a terminal illness.
This movie has intense themes and disturbing scenes, so it isn’t recommended for children under 13 years. Some slightly older children might need parental guidance too.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- People are complicated and capable of being both good and bad.
- People can be scared by what they don’t understand.
- Keeping secrets can result in emotional trauma, self-recrimination and self-harm.
You could talk with your children about:
- why Conor feels guilty and finds it so difficult to discuss his feeling about his dying mother
- why Conor feels he needs to be punished for his feelings.