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.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Terminal illness; death of a parent; grief; bullying
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
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.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, A Monster Calls has scenes that could scare or disturb children aged under five years. For example:
- Conor’s recurring nightmare is very scary. In his nightmare, an old church crumbles, a giant sinkhole opens up, and Conor can’t save his mother, who falls into the sinkhole.
- A giant yew tree transforms into a monster. Its roots break out of the ground and transform into legs. Its eyes are like burning coals with yellow slits for pupils. Before the monster comes, strange things happen, including violent windstorms.
- Some scenes show the monster destroying things. For example, the monster rips a section of a house from its foundations and hurls it through the air. It also crushes train lines as it walks.
- In one scene, roots grow out of the monster’s head and fingers and wrap themselves around Conor’s face and body.
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, A Monster Calls has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- Conor confesses that he secretly wants his mother to die because he can’t stand seeing her suffer and wants it over with. He says that he deserves to be punished for wanting his mother to die.
- One distressing scene shows Conor’s dying mother sitting on a bed, emaciated and with a bald head. Later we see Conor standing next to his mother’s bed and crying. Conor climbs into bed with her, and she dies while he holds her.
Children in this age group are likely to be disturbed by the scenes from A Monster Calls mentioned above. They might be particularly upset by the bullying Conor experiences and the death of his mother.
Younger children in this age group might be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
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.