A Monster Calls Review
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Each one of us handles pain and grief in our own way. Some suffer in the open. Some withdraw. Some lash out. And in A Monster Calls, a heartbroken young boy is visited by a gigantic tree monster who forces him to confront his deepest pain and fear.

A Monster Calls tells the story of Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), a 12-year-old boy with more than his share of problems. At school, he has to face the constant attention of a bully; at home, he has to face his mother’s terminal illness. He’s frightened, but—more than that, he’s angry. And that’s when the monster comes for him—the gigantic old yew tree that bursts into his room to tell him stories of days long past. And, once he’s finished, he’ll demand one thing of Conor: the truth.

During a time of year that’s generally filled with a whole lot of weighty dramas, the tale of a monstrous tree that haunts a young boy may seem like a change of pace. But A Monster Calls isn’t just a creepy fantasy with a scary tree-beast; it’s a surprisingly potent tale of a character who’s struggling to come to grips with his mother’s declining health—and the changes that it will inevitably bring.

This is a dark and often painful film to watch—because it’s both haunting and heartbreaking. But it offers some strong characters and stand-out performances. MacDougall’s Conor is a tough and defiant kid who fights back—and sometimes lashes out—as he deals with his pain and frustration. Felicity Jones has just a small role as Conor’s ailing mother, though it’s a noteworthy one nonetheless. But the tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) is an especially fascinating character. He may be huge and threatening—and sometimes terrifying—but he can be surprisingly kind at times, too, as he imparts his wisdom.

The stories that the tree relates to Conor are messy and complicated—just like his life. And they’re filled with gray areas—with bad guys who aren’t always bad and good guys who aren’t necessarily good. They’re all told in striking animated sequences that are stylized and eerie. And they all come together in a way that will haunt viewers even more than the images of the enormous, house-crushing tree.

More unconventional award season drama than supernatural thriller, A Monster Calls is a dark and lingering—and thought-provoking—story about the messiness of life. It certainly isn’t a light, uplifting film, but it’s a memorable one.

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