After watching A Monster Calls, the mere thought of the movie is bound to bring a tear to your eye.
This emotional masterpiece is the second English-speaking film from director J. A. Bayona, the man behind The Orphanage and 2013’s The Impossible, and is bound to be the film of his career having already received rave reviews around the globe.
Author Patrick Ness wrote the screenplay based on his book of the same name about a boy coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness; an idea which actually stemmed from late novelist Siobhan Dowd before her death from breast cancer. The tome won Ness the Carnegie Medal and illustrator Jim Kay the kate Greenaway Medal, a rare and impressive accomplishment, so when news came about that it was heading to the big screen it’s safe to say fans were relieved to hear both Ness and Kay were involved.
Newcomer Lewis MacDougall, who made his debut in fantasy flick Pan, truly shines in A Monster Calls as Conor O’Malley, a young boy who not only has to deal with bullies at school and his father living in another country, but his cancer-stricken mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) too. To make matters worse his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t help with her severe exterior, though little does Conor know it’s a front to hide her despair.
Losing his mum is a fear that haunts Conor every night through a terrifying nightmare, in which the graveyard near his house opens up to swallow his mum into the ground.
He can’t ignore it for much longer, especially when the ginormous Yew tree outside his window transforms into a story-telling monster who takes Conor on a journey which ends with him telling his own personal tale, despite how difficult it proves to be.
While A Monster Calls is, and was, a story aimed at kids there’s nothing childish about this film and how it addresses such a powerful issue when many youngsters are suffering in silence. MacDougall plays Conor with the perfect amount of emotion and is by far the best performer out of the whole cast, followed closely by Jones’ portrayal of a mother scared of leaving her son behind.
Although Weaver’s stern-grandmother role is initially hard to embrace, especially due to her muddled accent, as her character warms throughout the film it allows the audience to understand her better.
Neeson meanwhile voices the tree monster with power and heart, making him fearful yet completely mesmerising. The special effects team did an outstanding job at bringing Kay’s sketches of the yew to life and it’s wonderful to see the stories told by the tree played out in delicate animation.
It isn’t a happy film, that’s for sure, but sometimes the saddest of tales are the ones that stick. A Monster Calls will stay with you for a long, long time and is one of the few features that will have you bawling more than once thanks to the immensely sad and poignant centre of the story.
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