From the book by Patrick Ness (Class) comes A Monster Calls. From the trailer, it’s a dark, brooding affair about a boy and a massive tree voiced menacingly by The Jacket himself, Liam Neeson (Taken, Schindler’s List). But, as we know, sometimes trailers get it wrong.
Conor, played by Lewis MacDougall (Pan), is a young boy (actually he’s a bit of a little sh*t but anyway) who’s dealing with his mother, played by Felicity Jones (Rogue One, The Theory of Everything) dying of cancer. As she returns to hospital he must go and live with his Grandma, played by Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Avatar), whilst at the same time dealing with a school bully, who has an odd obsession with him, and a giant tree that visits him at 12:07 each morning.
Let’s get straight to the point here in this review, A Monster Calls is a fantastic film. The dialogue is superb and director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage) does a wonderful job with the camera, aided by some brilliant special effects.
Neeson voicing the tree is a wonderful tick, his voice resonates out of the screen like Barry White from your speakers. He’s menacing but you know he has a point to it all which keeps you gripped throughout. Looks wise he’s very much Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy but that’s no bad thing.
In fact, if I had one gripe, or two in this instance, it’s that there were a few parts of the film that felt familiar. The look and feel felt a bit Kez, the tree looked a lot like Groot and having Sigourney Weaver as a grandma took some getting used to. I mean, she may well be, but she certainly doesn’t look like one, particularly not one that’s supposed to live in an old-fashioned home.
Still, having her in the movie is obviously not a bad thing, being, as she is, such a good actor. MacDougall does a wonderful job of playing a young boy in turmoil, unsure of what he’s meant to be doing or saying or how he’s meant to be acting. Then his father, played by Toby Kebbell (RocknRolla, Prince of Persia), arrives from America and things change again for the poor lad.
But, the whole thing ticks along wonderfully with a script that is just mellifluous and acting that is done with ease. When The Monster arrives and begins telling Conor stories, the animation that goes along with them is beautifully done, although it does feel a little Karate Kid, why am I doing this, oh I’ll find out later.
As I’ve mentioned, the dialogue is brilliant. When The Monster begins a story about how the land used to be a Kingdom, Conor interjects with “this town? It doesn’t even have a Tesco”. There are lovely moments that are punctuated with light-heartedness but, make no mistakes, this film will pull on your heart strings. It had me going at the end.
There are all manner of things to take from this film. Conor must come to terms with a truth he’s been hiding from himself, it’s something we all do which is why it resonates so well. He must also realise that the world isn’t full of bad guys and good guys like the movies and that sometimes, what seems bad, can actually be good.
Other than the casting of Weaver as a Grandma (just takes some getting used to, also she’s American so…), A Monster Calls is a wonderful film. An amazing script, brilliantly directed, great effects and animation, superb performances all round and Liam Neeson’s deep voice resonating from your bass bins, what more could you want?