Young actor Lewis MacDougall impresses in JA Bayona's imaginative but overly sentimental fantasy tale about a child dealing with the horrors of real life
Or 'Pan's Labyrinth 2: The Oscar Years'. When Spanish filmmaker JA Bayona's debut 'The Orphanage' was released back in 2007, many proclaimed him the rightful heir to Guillermo del Toro: creepy and inventive, the film bore a notable debt to the Mexican maestro's chilly masterpiece of wartime horror, 'The Devil's Backbone'. Bayona's follow-up, the disaster movie 'The Impossible', may have quieted those voices temporarily, but expect them to rise again, full-throated, when 'A Monster Calls' arrives in cinemas. Adapted by author Patrick Ness from his dour, dreamlike not-quite-kids'-book about an imaginative boy who conjures a writhing, ent-like tree-monster to help him deal with his mother's worsening cancer, this ambitious, often awkward, intermittently striking fairytale-horror-cum-disease-drama feels like the movie Del Toro would produce if he was suddenly struck down with Oscar fever.
13-year-old Connor (Lewis MacDougall) is finding life a struggle: his mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) is dying by degrees, his grandma (a miscast Sigourney Weaver) is brittle and loveless and his dad (Toby Kebbell) only makes the trip back from America when it suits him. So when a 40-foot monster (granite-voiced by Liam Neeson) tears itself out of a nearby yew tree and comes rampaging into Connor's life, he's glad of the distraction. But why has the beast come? To steal him away? To save his mum? Or just to tell him a series of prettily animated fairy stories?
It's hard to know who the audience might be for 'A Monster Calls': too scary and bleak for kids, it'll likely prove too whimsical and meandering for most grown-ups. Bayona shot the film in Lancashire - notably in the gloriously named mill town of Ramsbottom, north of Manchester - but that landscape's industrial wildness is rarely reflected in the film itself. And it doesn't help that the town's inhabitants - even the scruffy ruffians who gang up on Connor at school - all speak like they've just left stage school.
But on the rare occasions that the film loosens up, it springs to life: MacDougall is a charismatic lead, and when he's not tied to the script – as in a pair of wild, full-throated scenes of wilful destruction – he lifts the entire film. The climax is unexpectedly powerful, with a genuinely sharp, emotionally bracing sting in the tale (a pity, though, that Bayona lets the sentimental aftermath run on as long as he does). The result is strange and memorable, but frustratingly over-polite. There's a gripping, dark, truly monstrous film lurking in here somewhere, but Bayona seems hell-bent on keeping it at bay.
Cast and crew
Average User Rating
3.8 / 5
- 5 star:2
- 4 star:4
- 3 star:1
- 2 star:0
- 1 star:1
A bittersweet tale. I'd been looking forward to seeing this film after a mediocre December in cinemas. J. A. Bayona's films never disappoint me (although he never surpassed his first "The Orphanage"). With "A Monster Calls", I felt that the film's strength rely on its smooth storytelling feel. The story starts with a tone of Dickensian teenage adventure but as the narrative unfolds, it begins to address serious current real-life issues, both bluntly (cancer, mother-child attachment, bullying) and through its more subtle symbolism (the environment). Because of the heavy themes in the film, I felt that young children might leave the cinema feeling a bit sad, but then again, this is probably a self-conscious decision aimed at representing the pressures and challenges of life that children and adults alike have to face. Technically the film is well produced, ambitious but safe. I really enjoyed this film and think it deserves to be watched.
I saw this last night as part of The London Film Festival. I was an invited guest ( Thank you Edwardian Hotels ) In truth I am not sure its the sort of film that I would have paid to see. However, I found it both challenging and richly rewarding.
Its the story of a kid struggling with the gradual decline and death of his mother from cancer.
He has other challenges to face - including recurring surreal nightmares that help shape and frame his thinking.
Not the theme of normal cinematic entertainment. I found it thought-provoking , distressing and at moments uncomfortably amusing.
There is a monster in this film, and its not the one voiced by Liam Neeson.