First Look Review: A Monster Calls

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A fascinating look at how we cope with the one's we love being ill. With fantastic visuals and great performances, this is a must see in the new year.

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Based off the novel written by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls is a chilling look at how children deal with illness and pain and how it affects the ones around them. The child, Conor, played by Lewis MacDougall receives nightly visits from The Monster, voiced by Liam Neeson who is there to help him deal with the possible death of his only caregiver.

Each night, The Monster tells Conor a story. Each story is animated in a similar style to that of “The Three Brothers” scenes found in the last Harry Potter films. They are fantasy based stories of kings, queens and lords, with each story representing a certain metaphor for Conor’s situation. At first, these stories do not seem to bear any real resemblance to the story, and Conor becomes increasingly frustrated by this apparent waste of time.

The key performance comes from Conor’s mother, Lizzie, who is played by Felicity Jones. In a year in which Jones had her first role in a major film franchise (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), she still seems to exceed those expectations through her performance of a dying woman trying to keep the world as normal as possible for her son. Sigourney Weaver plays Conor’s grandmother, a woman with strict rules as to how life should be run and quickly tries to instil her ideals into Conor.

If there is a weakness to the film, it is in the performance of MacDougall itself. Although he puts in an emotional performance, at times this feels forced and there seems to be a degree of exaggeration to his performance. However, underneath there seems to be real talent in MacDougall’s performance, it suggests that the sentimental and relevant theme of the film may have impacted on the performance.

There is a fantasy with Conor and his mother which shows him struggling to hold on as Lizzie hangs over the edge of a cliff. Each time, The Monster is there but refuses to get involved in the situation between the mother and her son. As the film moves towards its conclusions, each metaphor from the stories starts to open up and become much clearer without appearing too preachy or in your face. Neeson evokes the same emotion and calmness in his vocal performance as he did in the Narnia series, where he voices a character with a very similar role and ethos. His voice seems to convey calmness and serenity as he speaks to Conor.

In conclusion, A Monster Calls shows a thought provoking look at terminal illness and how it affects those closest to the people suffering. As the person comes closer to the end of their life, this film shows the pain and heartache that comes from it, and how it can be possible to eventually deal with this and move on. With strong performances and beautiful visuals, A Monster Calls is a must see when it comes out in cinemas early next year.

A Monster Calls, directed by J. A. Bayona, is distributed in the UK by Focus Features. Certificate 12a

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