A Monster Calls Review TIFF

The  Plot

A boy (Lewis MacDougall) seeks the help of a tree monster (Liam Neeson) to cope with his single mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness.

The Good

At just 14 years old, relative newcomer Lewis MacDougall (whose debut came in last years Pan) manages to hold up this moving adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel, with the help of a stellar cast including Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and the voice of Liam Neeson. Mixing reality and fantasy together, director J.A. Bayona, who’s next project is the upcoming Jurassic World sequel, tells the story of Conor (MacDougall), a young boy who is visited by a walking talking tree credited simply as ‘The Monster’ who makes Guardians of The Galaxy’s Groot look like a twig in comparison and is brought to life through some impressive CGI work.

The gruff tones of Liam Neeson fit The Monster perfectly, as he visits Conor to tell him three fairy tale-like stories on the condition that Conor tells the fourth. The initial three stories are told alongside some beautiful animation that is reminiscent of the tale of the Deathly Hallows from the Harry Potter series. Meanwhile A Monster Calls manages to weave in the reality around Conor as he struggles to deal with his mother’s illness, played by Felicity Jones, and the arrival of his strict grandmother, played by Sigourney Weaver.

Where A Monster Calls truly succeeds is in its central performance. At no point does the story feel too heavy for MacDougall, and it’s incredible to see his nuanced performance ape those of Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver. If this is what he can achieve at age 12 and 2 films into his career, the future looks very bright indeed for this young actor.

Also memorable is the previously mentioned animation that accompanies The Monster’s three tales. While it is true that it invokes memories of Hallows it does so in a way that still feels original.

The Bad

The only bad aspects of A Monster Calls will come to those fortunate enough to have not been affected by a terminal illness in their life. For those audience members, the hard-hitting moments perhaps won’t hit as hard as for those more familiar with the themes that are brought to the story. If you leave the film having not shed a tear, you’re either completely heartless or incredibly lucky.

The Ugly Truth

Director J.A. Bayona brings a beautiful tale to the screen with the help of some incredible animation and CGI effects. But the real star of the film comes from Lewis MacDougall’s engrossing central performance.

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