By Adam Ray Palmer
The first review for Cineroom at the 60th London Film Festival is J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls that opens in the UK officially on January 6th 2017.
Starring an array of talent including Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and the young Lewis MacDougall.
All the stars are there, but what about the delivery?
A Monster Calls follows the journey of Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is a young boy dealing with the terminal illness of his mother (Felicity Jones) and the attacks by school bully Harry (James Melville). One night when doodling in his bedroom, a monster (Liam Neeson), which is a massive human true, visits Conor tell him three stories that helps him deal with his unhappy life.
Each story that Conor is told makes him realise what he can do to improve his ongoing problems. At the core of this story, his mother is dying and he is struggling to come to terms with it. However, he is also being bullied at school, he doesn’t get along with his grandma (Weaver) and his dad (Kebbell) can only allow him fleeting visits from LA.
Where this film wins, is actually where I thought this movie would fall down. Fifteen minutes in when we are told by the ‘tree monster’ that he will visit the boy to tell him three stories before Conor tells the fourth, I thought this was going to be long-winded with too many hindering sequences – but I was wrong.
The three tales are told beautifully by the booming voice of Liam Neeson coupled with dreamy illustrations that float across the screen like fresh ink dropping into water. The sequences lure you in and you are transfixed by the storytelling, it’s like being seven years old again having story-time at school.
It’s in fact the over-arching narrative that is the bore. It’s not terrible but it’s just unoriginal. The dying mother, the estranged father and the strained relationships with the potential family you’ll live with – it’s nothing new. I think Bayona recognises this so backs himself up by using these animated sequences to pull the movie together.
Bayona can also lean on great acting performances to make the film tick along its runtime. Young Lewis MacDougall, only in his second film, is a delight as the emotionally-stricken boy. He has a handful of really difficult scenes and he’s fully believable. The ever-brilliant Felicity Jones is on point again in ‘AMC’ and very rarely falters. Sigourney Weaver is the other scene stealer with Lewis though, her haunting performance of the grandma is fantastic. We see her character develop along with Conor’s as she must come to terms with losing her daughter. You begin the film against her but end it alongside her.
There are pros and cons with A Monster Calls. It slightly overruns and the monster could have been more polished, let alone a few CGI effects that look incomplete at times throughout the film. Bayona does his best with some great directing and the whimsical, animated tales but relies too heavily on the acting at times. If the cast only simmered in their roles, this could have been a car crash – it’s a good job they boil.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
A Monster Calls will be in cinemas in the UK from 6th January 2017 – certificate TB