STARRING: Lewis MacDougall, Max Golds, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, James Melville, Geraldine Chaplin and Liam Neeson
A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother’s terminal illness.
We’re introduced to a young boy named Conor O’Malley who is going through a tough period in his life. His mother has terminal cancer, he has to deal with his strict grandmother since his father lives in the United States and he’s being bullied at school. One night however, Conor is listed by a tree-like monster at 12.07AM that states he will tell Conor three true stories and in return the boy must tell him his own story about the truth behind his nightmare that he keeps having.
A Monster Calls is a film based on the novel of the same by Patrick Ness who also wrote the screenplay for this film. We follow Conor O’Malley who is bottling his emotions for the most part as his mother is suffering from terminal cancer, he has to deal with his strict grandmother and he’s being bullied at school. As he suffers the same repetitive nightmare, one night he’s visited by a giant tree monster that says he will tell him three stories and in return Conor must tell him the truth behind his repetitive nightmare.
I must say the visual effects team behind the design of the monster should be applauded for their work here. The introduction of the stature of the monster is intimidating and yet he becomes a valuable vessel for Conor in teaching him the value of stories and how powerful they can be to learn from them. The story sequences themselves are handled beautifully at times, effortlessly blending in the animation whilst including the monster and Conor in a few of the scenes. The material of a boy struggling to deal with his emotions as his mother’s health begins to deteriorate feels like an honest portrayal of how a young kid could act during a difficult phase of potential grief/loss and I must say I was very much impressed by Lewis MacDougall’s performance as Conor O’Malley. Liam Neeson also provides a fine performance as the tree monster while Felicity Jones is fine as Conor’s terminally ill mother.
While the film goes for the heartstrings and has an impactful last fifteen minutes, I just couldn’t connect to the material as the film slowly makes its way to the inevitable conclusion. While the stories visually look good, the meaning behind them just feels disjointed from the overall story. Sigourney Weaver for me felt terribly miscast and the bullying angle just didn’t work for me at all.
While I felt underwhelmed by the overall film, it still has its moments where it handles the material well (finale) and looks gorgeous (the visuals for the monsters stories). Perhaps the film could improve on a repeated viewing to see if I can connect with it better. Lewis MacDougall’s performance makes him one to keep an eye out for in the future. Also I would’ve preferred if the film ended five minutes before it actually did. 5/10