Coner at the tree

A review of A Monster Calls

by

A deeply affecting fantasy drama about death and grief.

Based on the book and screenplay written by Patrick Ness, the idea for A Monster Calls originally came from Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away from breast cancer at the age of 47. A Monster Calls follows twelve-year-old Connor, the startlingly talented Lewis MacDougall, whose mother, played with heartbreaking vulnerability by Felicity Jones, is terminally ill. Bullied at school, with an absent father and a domineering grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), Connor is forced to confront his fears when a Monster, voiced commandingly by Liam Neeson, emerges from underneath a yew tree in the nearby cemetery and offers to tell Connor three stories in exchange for the child’s ‘truth’.

A story of grief and how to cope with it is a subject matter that requires a sensitive hand if it is to strike a chord with audiences. Bar the odd moment of heavy-handed symbolism, A Monster Calls is a deeply affecting and intimate fantasy drama, and director J.A. Bayona slowly yet surely guides us through this quiet, poignant story but refuses to water down the harsh realities of grief.

Brought to life through a combination of motion capture, practical effects, and CGI, the titular ‘Monster’ is, at first, terrifying, his thunderous footsteps crushing everything underneath him before the realisation kicks in that he is not a ‘monster’ at all; that he might just be the one thing in Connor’s life that he so desperately needs. Speaking of Connor, Lewis MacDougall is quite the revelation, giving a performance so remarkably restrained and brimming with a maturity that belies his age. Connor is too old to be considered a child but too young to be considered an adult, and the resulting frustration that resides within him simmers to an almost unhealthy degree before it erupts during the third act.

A Monster Calls is just a touch too long, and the climax doesn’t pull its punches, but it is unique in its story and execution, and it is carried by remarkable performances from its central actors.