An emotional journey anchored by an impressive debut by young star Lewis MacDoug

Monster Calls
PG-13  |  108 min  |  Drama, Fantasy | Now showing in select theaters. Everywhere 01.06.17

Synopsis: A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom's terminal illness.

Director: J.A. Bayona
Writers: Patrick Ness (screenplay), Patrick Ness (based upon the novel written by)
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall 

Review: A MONSTER CALLS is an emotional journey anchored by an impressive debut by young star Lewis MacDougall. At first glance it looks to be another cliché riddled fable with recognizable voices and regurgitated story lines. But, surprise, this one will stir the stoniest of hearts and leave not a dry eye in sight. Not perfect or without fault but it delivers powerfully where it counts.

Conor (MacDougall) is a carrying more baggage than anyone his age should have to tote. He is watching his mom (Felicity Jones) struggle through a horrible illness, bullied at school, sent to live with his strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and his absentee father (Toby Kebbell) is no help at all. A monstrous tree (voice of Liam Neeson) seems to be just another problem until it begins to help Conor deal with all his wide range emotions. 

I was not a fan of the 2009 film version of Where the Wild Things Are. My concern was that this one would travel that same route. A destructive young boy with anger issues who we are forced to pity. Though I felt very manipulated by that movie this one was more organic and offered the raw emotion in a genuine manner. That is very key to its success. Yes Conor is responsible for a lot of his troubles but he is not without sympathy. 

The tree too redeems itself from the initial meeting. I was concerned that the unmistakable voice of Neeson would separate me from the films intent. Is this Aslan in the form of a tree? Does this tree have a particular set of skills? Will it release the Kraken? I wasn't sure. But the animation graphics and movement of the tree easily remove you from the voice and it takes a life of its own. Yes the voice is recognizable but it never over powers the emotion. 

Jones is also an important element in the high level of emotion in this film. Her love for Conor is so believable that your heart breaks for their situation. Anyone who has experienced the deep adoration of a single mother will immediately be grafted to this one. Along with Conor we watch her deteriorate in front of us which helps carry us along the journey with him. 

All of the afore mentioned facts mean nothing if MacDougall doesn't give us one hundred percent. If Conor is even the slightest of a weak link the entire project fails. That is a lot of pressure for a young actor. This may be his first major role but he never falters. He is in every scene and not once do we see him lose focus or take us out of the moment. That is impressive for any actor. Even when standing toe to toe with an imposing Sigourney Weaver or having an emotional moment with his mum; he is outstanding. 

A MONSTER CALLS is rated PG-13 for thematic content and some scary images. There are some hard themes in this one and younger viewers might find them a bit much to process. Older teens will be fine with the content and might even relate to many of the issues Conor faces. I will go out on a limb and give it 4 out of 5. No sap in this one but a strong root system of emotion.

Reviewer - Matt Mungle - @themungle

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