A Monster Calls – Film Review
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson
Director: J.A. Bayona
Synopsis: A young boy, battling with bullies and his mother’s terminal illness, finds an unlikely companion in a gigantic living tree, who teaches the boy tales about life.
Review: Growing up, no matter who you are, no matter your circumstances, is tough. Of course some may have it easier than others, but all of us as we leave our early years behind us enter a tricky phase in our lives, a period that is not exactly simple to negotiate. Now imagine if you’re in a situation where you’re frequently getting picked on at school, and your life at home is well difficult too, which again is something it is possible many out there have gone through. Yet what if, during these tricky and testing times, you were visited by a giant talking tree monster who came to you when you needed someone to talk to? That’s something certainly no one has ever had to experience, unless you’re the main character in this interesting delve into the fantasy genre, spliced with heartbreaking family drama.
Conor (MacDougall) is the boy in question battling all of these difficult situations in his life. Picked on by bullies, and with his mother (Jones) terminally ill due to cancer, his only solace is the titular “monster” a walking talking tree voiced and mo-capped by Liam Neeson, who in the dead of night, comes to Conor to tell him stories, all the while seeking to make the boy’s life happier. From a screenplay by Patrick Ness who also wrote the novel on which this is based, director J.A. Bayona steers this mesh of fantasy and real life drama and tragedy, into an extremely imaginative tale, that’s visually quite tremendous to watch, and gets some beautiful and emotional performances from its cast.
In what is only his second film role, MacDougall has much of the film riding on his shoulders, and for a young actor he rises to the challenge and does a tremendous job. He really conveys the unimaginable pain that someone in his position would be going through superbly well. Though his performance does wobble in parts, his emotion and rage against his circumstances ensure you feel for his character. Felicity Jones, on the back of Rogue One, gives also a very wounded and powerful performance as Conor’s mother. Though she is battling a terrible illness, she does her best to be positive and upbeat for her son’s benefit, and Jones could just potentially be a dark horse in this awards season race for best supporting actress. Signourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell do shine as Conor’s stern Grandmother and somewhat absentee Father respectively, but its Jones and MacDougall who are the leading lights, and they take home the acting plaudits.
There’s also the not so small matter of Neeson’s Tree Monster, a sort of Groot XL who can say a lot more than “I am Groot.” Through his booming voice and motion capture work, he brings the character to life brilliantly. Neeson has shown in the past he has quite the deep, powerful voice that has lent itself to the deity like figures of Zeus and Aslan, and as a tree like being, his voice and its deep tone is quite effective. It gives the tales that the Monster tells Conor really weight and ensures that they have the impact on the audience that undoubtedly the film makers wanted it to have. The tales themselves are told in a very intriguing manner, and doubt that it is extremely effective, at tugging at the audience heartstrings, and Bayona adapts the story beautifully, so much so that you might find it hard to fight back the tears once the credits begin to roll.