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A Monster Calls Review: Intelligent Fairytale With a Heart Full of Magic

The ‘big’ scenes featuring Connor and the monster tree are full blooded and very well realized with the help of slick special effects and animation.

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Updated:January 8, 2017, 9:19 AM IST
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A Monster Calls Review: Intelligent Fairytale With a Heart Full of Magic
A still from Monster Calls.

A Monster Calls is the deeply affecting story of a 12-year-old boy trying to come to terms with the fact that his mother is dying.

It’s a somber premise, and all the more heartbreaking when you consider that our protagonist, young ConorO’Malley, is facing more than his fair share of troubles. He’s bullied at school, hounded by nightmares, hates his overbearing grandmother, and has been more or less abandoned by his father who has remarried and relocated.

In the depths of his despair, Conoris visited by a giant, tree-shaped monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who arises every night from a churchyard nearby and proceeds to tell him stories that help him cope with his situation.

In the hands of a less skillful filmmaker, this could’ve well turned out an incomprehensible mess. But Spanish-born director JA Bayona, who revealed a gift for marrying spectacle with emotion in the Naomi Watts-starring tsunami drama The Impossible, knows exactly how to interweave the fantastical with the everyday, therein tapping into the story’s extraordinary power.

The ‘big’ scenes featuring Connor and the monster tree are full blooded and very well realized with the help of slick special effects and animation. But what really makes these sequences work is the fact that they’re grounded in reality. The VFX don’t overwhelm or in any way diminish the intimacy of the personal story that is being told.
A chunk of the credit for that must also go to the excellent ensemble of actors who deliver moving, heartfelt performances. Felicity Jones is particularly strong as Conor’s dying mother, and Liam Neeson brings gravitas to the part of the tree. But it’s Lewis MacDougall who hits his stride as our troubled protagonist.

Inevitably, the film does become over-sentimental, which is a shame because it’s genuinely moving without all the obvious button-pushing. And yet, I must admit that the last scene between mother and son had me struggling to hold back my tears.

I’m going with three out of five for A Monster Calls. It’s an imaginative, intelligent fairytale with as much heart as magic.

Rating: 3 / 5

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