Director: J.A. Bayona
Runtime: 108 minutes
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, et al…
Plot (taken from IMDb): A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother’s terminal illness.
A Monster Calls got 2017 off to a flying start. This smart, stylish drama about a boy slowly losing his mother to a terminal illness is very emotional, but reassuring about the love families share. J.A. Bayona’s direction is impeccable throughout, backed up by a phenomenal lead performance from Lewis MacDougall and plenty of incredible CGI effects.
For a film that’s about a young boy, named Conor, (Lewis MacDougall) coming to terms with the slow, painful death of his mother, A Monster Calls is surprisingly adventurous visually. Conor is drawn to an ancient tree near his house, creating artwork of it. It’s a big old tree. It carries a certain air of grandeur and importance with it. As it turns out, the old tree is an ancient being, or at least, this is what we are told. The tree monster (Liam Neeson) walks to Conor’s house and tells him three stories over several nights. These are tales that are meant to teach Conor life stories, and how to cope with severe situations. Each tale is told in a beautiful, painterly CGI style, and add to the film brilliantly.
The awesome special effects don’t end there, either. A Monster Calls is visually stunning throughout. You feel the weight and ancient power of the monster. You see the cracks and detail in his ancient branches. He feels very much alive, and part of the film, unlike countless other CGI effects I’ve seen in films with far higher budgets. Liam Neeson’s deep, craggled voice only adds more weight to the monster. It’s one of the finest effects I’ve seen in a long, long time. Bayona’s eye for visuals is impeccable. A Monster Calls shows themes of anger, madness and depression all at once. The camera helps to tell the film’s story just as much as the fine script and solid performances from the core cast. Jurassic World 2 is in fine hands, don’t you worry.
A Monster Calls tells Conor’s story on a number of fronts, focussing on his complicated home life as well as his painful experience of school. A film about a kid struggling to come to terms with his mum’s terminal illness would be depressing enough as it is, but Conor’s life is harder than that. He cares for his mum, is an only child, and his parents are no longer together, with his dad living in the USA. On top of all that, he struggles with bullies at school. And this is where the film’s biggest problem lies. You can believe everything in A Monster Calls. Conor’s situation, no matter how depressing, carries an unfortunate tang of reality with it. We’ve all been affected by cancer in one way another, it’s a horrible, nasty disease. We can understand the emotions Conor is going through, we even believe that he is talking to a gigantic ancient tree beast. It’s all handled superbly.
That is, everything except Conor’s bully troubles. Conor’s bullies don’t look, nor act like the bullies I, and most of you would recognise. They were too posh and felt forced. I know bullies can come in all shapes and sizes, but they unfortunately just didn’t feel threatening in A Monster Calls. It was quite a shame, as they turned out to play a rather pivotal role in both Conor’s and the film’s development. Child actors can be great, like Lewis MacDougall here, but they can fall afoul of hammy delivery. Conor’s bullies were less believable than something out of Eastenders. It was a shame, as every other aspect of A Monster Calls was delivered in the utmost class and some style.
Some rubbish bullies weren’t enough to ruin A Monster Calls.