A Monster Calls Adaptation

'A Monster Calls' Film Review: A visually striking and poignant tale for young and old alike

January 6, 2017Ben MK

After making an impression on moviegoers as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones shot to the stars — literally — by playing the lead character, Jyn Erso, in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Now, the actress is taking on a more down-to-earth, supporting role in director J.A. Bayona's A Monster Calls, a film whose title makes it sound a lot scarier than it is.

In it, Jones plays Elisabeth Clayton, cancer-stricken mother to a boy named Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall). "Too old to be a kid, too young to be a man," Conor struggles not only with his mum's situation, but also with the fact that his dad (Toby Kebbell) has left them both to start a new family in Los Angeles. Add to that the school bully who's a continual source of torment for Conor, and it's no wonder that Conor regularly retreats into the far corners of his imagination — where he encounters a monster in the form of a Yew tree come to life (voiced by Liam Neeson).

Making its presence known nightly at 12:07 AM, the monster has a simple proposition for Conor. Upon each visit, the monster shall tell Conor a story; and after three stories, it will be the boy's turn to return the favor. Of course, all of this is but a means for Conor to come to terms with Elisabeth's impending death; but even though he's skeptical, Connor is surprised to find strength in the yarns, which range from the tale of a young prince and the witch accused of murdering his true love, to the story of a dispute between a faithless parson and a stubborn apothecary.

Adapted by screenwriter Patrick Ness from his 2011 novel of the same name, A Monster Calls is, in many ways, reminiscent of movies like Labyrinth, The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride. Yet, despite its pronounced fantasy elements, the film remains firmly rooted in the family drama and bittersweet aspects of its narrative, which owe a great deal to the strong performances of Jones and newcomer MacDougall, whose roles are bolstered by a supporting turn from an understated Sigourney Weaver, playing Conor's stern but supportive grandmother.

Visually, however, is where the film shines. And while moviegoers may have received an introduction to "Baby Groot" from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailers, Neeson's towering monster feels very much like a nightmarish version of the character's former self, with traits of the Ents from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy thrown in for good measure. Meanwhile, the monster's stories are rendered in dreamlike watercolors that evoke the style of more traditional animation, making it feel more handcrafted than computer-generated.

It all amounts to a moving allegory for grief and the transition from childhood to adulthood. But what makes A Monster Calls truly special is the way the film interweaves the genres of drama and fantasy to form a compelling work of cinema. Melancholy, but not without moments of humor, the result is a film that blurs the lines between children's movies and more adult fare; and, like any good story, it will stick with you, no matter what your age.

A Monster Calls releases January 6th, 2017 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for thematic content and some scary images. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 48 Mins.

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