A MONSTER CALLS review by Mark Walters – Liam Neeson is a big friendly giant… tree

A MONSTER CALLS review by Mark Walters – Liam Neeson is a big friendly giant… tree


Steven Spielberg’s THE BFG didn’t exactly become a hit at the box office, making one wonder if movies about giants mixing with regular people just won’t sell tickets these days, even if they’re based on a classic Roald Dahl story. Theaters will try again this weekend with A MONSTER CALLS, which is a very different animal, much more emotional and darker in tone. Directed by J.A. Bayona (THE IMPOSSIBLE), this film is also based on a book by Patrick Ness. Make sure to bring tissues, as it’s one of the more tear-inducing films to grace big screens in recent months.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is a 12-year-old boy dealing with bullies at school, a nagging grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and his dying mother (Felicity Jones) and infrequently visiting father (Toby Kebbell). When the pressure of life starts to weigh on the young man, he begins to draw, and the yew tree behind his house literally becomes a creature comes to life. This monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) isn’t here to hurt Conor, but rather help him cope with his shattered existence. Whether it’s fighting back against school thugs, taking out his frustrations on his grandmother, or even finding the courage to face the inevitable demise of his ailing mother. The creature does this by telling wildly imaginative stories, but warning Conor that he must tell the last tale.

While on the surface A MONSTER CALLS may seem like a kids film, it’s more mature and sophisticated than some audiences might be expecting. Almost anyone can relate to losing a loved one, or fearing the loss of a parent in their lives, and there’s beat throughout the film that should strike a chord with just about any moviegoer. Lewis MacDougall is excellent as Conor, the precocious young boy who isn’t properly given the chance to be himself. His performance walks a fine line between undisciplined kid and highly sympathetic victim… you feel for him, even when he’s acting up. Liam Neeson’s voice as the monster is rather inspired, particularly when the creature is telling his stories. I can see why the seasoned actor would have been drawn to the material. And those aforementioned stories are shown in a rather unusual and almost haunting way, utilizing an almost ancient-looking style of animation and silhouettes. Director J.A. Bayona is known for his visuals, and the work here is rather spectacular. While used sparingly, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver are quite good as well in their respective roles, though it was a little odd hearing Weaver attempt a British accent. I wanted more of Toby Kebbell’s character as Conor’s estranged dad, but maybe that was the idea – we wish to see him more in the story just like Conor wishes he was around more often.

Perhaps the only downside of the film is the monster’s CGI animation, which varies between spectacular in some shots, and rather obvious in others. This was not a mega-budget film, so considering what they had to work with, the end result is quite impressive. One thing the film excels with are emotional beats, particularly scenes with Conor and his mother, including a motivational chat that’s rather heart-wrenching but yet so very sweet. And just when you think the film is wrapping up to roll credits, it slaps you with the biggest emotional punch of all. Let’s just say I needed a moment when it was over, the ending really hit me hard. While young children may not take to A MONSTER CALLS the way they would a Pixar or Illumination animated film, this is one of those movies you can definitely watch as a family and discuss. There are some dark moments to be aware of, but the journey is worth it when it’s all said and done. I may watch this one again, only next time I’m not gonna cry… okay, yeah, I’m gonna cry… probably even harder.

A MONSTER CALLS opens January 6, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.