Written by Patrick Ness and based on his 2011 novel of the same name, A Monster Calls is a heart-wrenching tale directed by JA Bayona, who’s next in line to direct the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World.
As well as being bullied at school, twelve-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is also struggling at home, with his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones) fading away. One night, at precisely seven minutes past midnight, a tree-like monster (Liam Neeson) awakens and greets Conor, promising three stories (which are beautifully brought to life with watercolour-like animation), after which Conor will tell the fourth, his own story about a truth he’s been denying.
In only his second role, MacDougall is incredibly impressive as he effortlessly conveys a plethora of emotions as he develops throughout the film. Neeson’s warm but gravelly voice (and brilliant motion capture) is a perfect fit for the awoken yew tree, guiding Conor as he’s forced to grow up prematurely and steering the film with his narration. Despite not having an excessive amount to do as her condition is deteriorating, Jones as Conor’s mother remains a compelling performance, delivering her dialogue with the utmost sincerity, with Toby Kebbell as Conor’s father paling in comparison. Sigourney Weaver as Conor’s stern grandmother is somewhat problematic, with her strict nature becoming cartoonish and her accent occasionally slipping. However, her talent shines during the scenes in which no dialogue is necessary.
With its heavy subject matter, it’s easy to assume that A Monster Calls is taking the easy route in targeting audiences emotionally, however, it’s not the inevitable outcome that gets you, it’s Conor’s journey to it. Exploring how grief can engulf you entirely, similar to (but not as horrifying as) Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.
With themes which will resonate with both adults and children, along with outstanding work from Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson, A Monster Calls packs an authentic emotional punch.