Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Cert: 12A Running Time: 112 mins
Release Date: January 1st 2017
It’s not often I’m left speechless by a film – tears running down my face, so quick that they’re on my neck before I can catch them. A Monster Calls struck something in me that makes an objective review impossible. It offered not only an incredible and moving cinema experience but it forced me to look at it through the prism of my own grief at the loss of my mother, also from cancer. It hit a nerve, head on, making no apologies and offering no anaesthetic. For some grief is a sudden thing, a baseball bat to the gut. For others, when death is preordained, it arrives early to burrow under your skin, leaving you defenceless against what’s to come.
It’s this grief that’s examined here, as 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) deals with his mum’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. Feeling lost and helpless, he is visited by a monster – a giant yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) brought to life from the local cemetery. The monster offers to tell Conor three stories, (beautifully rendered by illustrator Jim Kay), giving the boy a momentary escape from the devastation not helped by an absent father (Toby Kebell), a distant grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and the local bullies.
Given the emotional nature of the story, it never once manipulates its audience, never once lies to you – it only tells the truth and in that darkness – in not veering towards the saccharine – it becomes something profound and in a way life changing. Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) and writer Patrick Ness work in perfect synchronicity – Bayona completely getting what Ness was going for and capturing it with a magical touch, a perfect mix of fantasy and reality. Had another writer taken Ness’ 2011 novel (based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd), it may have lost some of the darkness. With Ness’ pen it retains all its bite, humour and heart.
Neeson’s performance as the monster is staggering. His voice and the power of his words are stunning, his movements perfectly captured in CGI. Lewis MacDougall is heart wrenching as Conor and Felicity Jones heart breaking as the mother who knows she is leaving her son forever. In speaking about death and grief, A Monster Calls reaches deep into you, healing with its honesty. To grieve is to be human, to love, to laugh, to cry. While its normal to suppress grief, push the pain down, A Monster Calls allows it to bubble to the surface and leaves it respectfully with the audience to process as they will.
Regardless of how personally bound to the story you may be, it is a powerful watch and those just looking for a thought provoking, imaginative and entertaining (for it is) spectacle could do no better for it is as sure a perfect film as has come along in some time. In a word, astounding.