A talking tree. An emotionally-wrought boy. An unbridled imagination. At first glance, A Monster Calls may strike you as a delightfully dotty affair akin to The BFG, but it is far darker and more heart-breaking than you’d anticipate.
Written by and based on Patrick Ness’ novel, the film details the story of Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) whose mother (Felicity Jones) is stricken with a terminal illness, as he tries to navigate his school and home life, whilst dealing with challenging bullies, an overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and a sense that his world is crumbling around him (quite literally). But never fear, a creepy tree is here to help – sort of. The ancient yew tree (Liam Neeson) – or as we like to call him, Treeson – is a bit of an odd character (and frankly, we’d have accepted nothing less), on hand to soothe the young boy with three horrific stories where nothing is quite what it seems. Wait, what? Is this a kid’s movie?
Whilst the film struggles at times with its tone, it manages to paint a complex and imaginative picture that portrays the different facets of grief beautifully and chooses not to shy away from the difficult concept of death and life. A mix of beautiful animation and live-action, the stories unfold ‘Tale of the Three Brothers’ style, evoking a sense of eeriness as well as intrigue for the twisted tales that the tree tells.
In some ways, MacDougall’s Conor is an extension of us all, as we try to navigate a world where belief and hope are ever increasingly important amongst tragedy and despair, and these ideas are what makes this movie so significant.
While some will no doubt consider A Monster Calls too dark for younger audiences, death isn’t exactly a light subject, and the film acknowledges this and attempts to do its justice through enthralling performances and spell-binding cinematography. Ultimately, this is a film worthy of an audience of all ages.