A visually stunning, emotionally heartbreaking movie for older children and adults, A Monster Calls is based on Patrick Ness’s acclaimed children’s novel and is one of those rare beasts – a movie that is as good as, if not better than, its source material.
Conor O’Malley (MacDougall) is a boy trying to deal with his single mother’s (Jones) terminal illness, while also suffering at the hands of a school bully. At night, he is visited by a monster, a giant yew tree that talks (voiced by Liam Neeson) and says he is going to visit Conor again and tell him three stories (shown using some inspired animation). After he has finished, it will be Conor’s turn to tell a story that has to be the truth or the monster will come for him.
Each of the monster’s fables have an effect on Conor’s life and his situation – his fear and loneliness magnified by an absent father (Toby Kebbell) who only shows up when it suits him, and a frosty grandmother (Weaver) whom Conor must stay with when his mother is in hospital.
It’s a beautifully written tale of grief, fear and love, and this imaginative film successfully combines fantasy scenes with Conor’s everyday life, mixing animation and CGI with live action and some great performances. Neeson’s voice is perfect – booming yet somehow gentle – as the monster, Jones just right as Conor’s young mother, but the praise should especially be heaped upon Sigourney Weaver and the amazing MacDougall. Weaver, as the woman facing losing her daughter to cancer and handling it the only way she knows how, by being brittle and sharp, delivers one of her best performances, while 14-year-old MacDougall – in only his second role – is simply wonderful, and so believable you’ll feel your heart ache for him.
A film released at the start of 2017 that already deserves to be on top 10 lists for the year, this is a lovely, sad, and poignant movie that is well worth seeking out.
Is A Monster Calls suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Younger viewers (the under 9s) will probably find the monster too scary to watch. Scenes when he smashes things and looms over Conor will be too frightening for young viewers, too.
The themes – grief, a parent dying of cancer, bullying – may also be too intense for younger children and the film is more appropriate for those aged 10 and over. However, if a child over that age is very sensitive, they may find the film a little frightening and upsetting.
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