A Monster Calls but barks up the wrong tree

  • Film
A Monster Calls but barks up the wrong tree


Wed, 28/12/2016 - 15:24


Lewis MacDougall branches out in A Monster Calls
Lewis MacDougall branches out in A Monster Calls
28 December, 2016

Certificate 12a

THIS is an exploration of the grief felt by a child when they lose a parent.

Sounds a barrel of laughs, right? 

A Monster Calls, adapted from the novel by Patrick Ness, attempts to consider how the impending death of a mother would impact on a 12-year-old son.Of course, this is hard, requires great sensitivity and has plenty of scope for examining emotions and how we react to adversity.

It’s frankly difficult: so this film’s inability to really score a bulls’ eye can be forgiven. What sadly lets it down is the fact an attempt to consider how a 12-year-old would attempt to process the loss of a parent by creating imaginative coping mechanisms is done in such a clunky way that I just can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through this.

Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) knows his mum is dying. His father lives in America, so has little to offer in paternal support, while his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver, with an accent that isn’t Welsh, isn’t American, more a transatlantic goulash of oddly pronounced clichés) is just one small step away from being a Roald Dahl baddie in her distaste for small children. 

Conor wakes up one night to discover he is being visited by a monster – a walking, talking tree that seems to be a cousin of the Ents from Lord of the Rings – who, for some reason, is going to tell Conor a series of odd fairytales in the lead-up to his mother popping off this mortal coil. It’s meant to be a consideration of how your imagination sets you free (I think) but it’s none too clear. 

Soppy, sappy, grim and at times just too disjointed for the audience to care much what happens next, the talent in the movie feels pale and poorly formed.

MacDougall brings a lot to the role: it is an awkward thing to play and he is a cut above the toothless offerings of his elder thesps. Sigourney Weaver is spectacularly miscast, Felicity Jones has little to do but look listless in a hospital gown, while Liam Neeson, voicing a giant tree monster, gives the impression it was recorded when he had an afternoon spare.

Seeing as I found it hard to understand what the whole point of this film was, maybe it would be fairer for the studio to tell us: “The monster demands, once the tales are told, it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return... Ancient, wild and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith and truth...” 

Well, OK, then.

Add comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.