Film review: A Monster Calls – a boy copes with mother’s imminent death in fantastic tear-jerker
Solid performances from a cast including Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones, impressive special effects and a heart-wrenching narrative ensure that this emotional movie will resonate with audiences
There’s no shortage of fantastical allegories in literature and film, through which children wrestle with life’s trials, and in this regard J.A. Bayona’s follow-up to his 2012 disaster drama The Impossible navigates well-trodden ground. But solid performances, impressive effects work and the bruisingly heart-wrenching story at the film’s centre ensure A Monster Calls will have viewers in pieces.
Adapted by Patrick Ness from his own novel, the film sees Lancashire lad Conor O’Malley ( Pan ’s Lewis MacDougall) struggling to accept the worsening condition of his mother (Felicity Jones of Rogue One ) whose cancer treatment fails to take. With an estranged father (Toby Kebbell) in the US and a cold, unflinching grandma (Sigourney Weaver), Conor has no outlet for his worsening emotional state.
Until, that is, the yew tree at the end of his garden morphs into a towering giant (voiced by Liam Neeson), who proceeds to tell him three stories over three nights, after which he demands Conor offer him a fourth.
Evoking elements of both Roald Dahl’s The BFG and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, A Monster Calls seems destined to garner unfavourable comparisons with both classics of British literature. But while the dialogue can at times be simplistic, Bayona’s shamelessly emotional execution refuses to let such weaknesses shackle him.
Weaver seems to be concentrating so hard on her English accent that she forgets to put in a performance, but Jones and Kebbell offer strong, sympathetic support for the brilliant MacDougall. Taking beatings, both physical and emotional, from all sides, his anguish is genuinely devastating, eclipsing even his beautifully realised CGI co-star, who determinedly steers him through his ordeal.
A Monster Calls opens on January 5
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook