Director: J.A Bayona
Writer: Patrick Ness
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson
Synopsis: A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mum’s terminal illness.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based on the book by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the film, that was based off the idea started by Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls is a visually, beautifully story done so well that hits you on every emotional level that you won’t leave the theater with a dry eyes. The story is a simple one, but what director J.A Bayona was able to do with his behind the camera team is nothing short of amazing and heartbreaking to watch.
The film revolves around a 12-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley, played by newcomer Lewis MacDougall, as he deals with seeing his mother, played by Felicity Jones, go through the final stages of chemotherapy for her cancer. When things take a turn for the worse, Conor loses himself in his drawings, but one night the giant tree in the cemetery near his home comes to life and visits him. Simply called The Monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, he comes to Conor and demands he listens to his three stories, and when the time is over, Conor will tell The Monster a fourth, which will be Conor’s truth.
Conor not seeing the meaning of this, of course, comes to terms and hears The Monster’s stories that come to life in beautiful animation that looks like watercolors. The moments in-between involve Conor dealing with his Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) that wants him to move in with her, and Conor’s father, played by Toby Kebbell, coming to visit from America. However, Conor is left with The Monster to deal with the grief of his mother.
From the moment I watched the first trailer for A Monster Calls, I knew this film was going to be special, and while watching I knew I was right about the film. While the visuals of The Monster and his stories are amazing – seriously – The Monster is an amazing effect and almost looks real in some shots. Combine that with Liam Neeson’s voice that conveys both terrifying monster, but compassion in some scenes as well. It’s a fine line that Neeson walks, and he does it so well.
However, the film is put on the shoulders of newcomer Lewis MacDougall, who handles it with ease. Technically his second film – he starred in Pan – it’s still hard to think that MacDougall is a newcomer. He handles himself with so much poise and maturity around seasoned actors like Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell. Conor, and really MacDougall, is the driving force of the film, and without him, and what he goes through, I don’t think A Monster Calls would have worked.
When it comes to the rest of the (human) cast, Felicity Jones as the mother is heartbreaking to watch, and while she doesn’t say too much, Jones says more than enough with her body language. Toby Kebbell has a small role as Conor’s father, but Kebbell brings a certain reality and humanity to the situation, while James Melville plays Harry, a bully at school. Finally, Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother takes some time to really delve into what her really makes her tick, but is worth the journey as well.
All in all, A Monster Calls is a film that keeps you invested from beginning to end, and never let’s go. The film is carried by its young star Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson as The Monster. Also, any film that can hook me in and have me on the verge of, or have me in, tears is going in my book. Seriously, bring tissues. Lots of them.
A Monster Calls
5 out of 5