A Monster Calls

A film that tries very hard to move its audience, with fairly successful results (I didn’t cry myself, but it’s a sad story and I gather it has left plenty of cinemagoers in floods of tears). It also tries very hard to address how children may feel when dealing with the terminal illness of a close relative, and to a certain extent it’s the frank way that this subject matter is approached that sets A Monster Calls aside from your usual fairytale or children’s film. I’ve seen comparisons made with Pan’s Labyrinth – it’s nowhere near as dark, but there are faint echoes of Guillermo del Toro’s magical work here, most notably in the design and movement of the giant, destructive tree monster. Director J.A. Bayona distinguishes his own film with a couple of beautifully-drawn animated fables alongside the more eye-popping monster effects; I liked these a lot, and the way they contribute to the film’s rejection of happy endings and neatly-diagnosed behaviour. There’s a decent performance by Lewis MacDougall as the young boy at the heart of the story and Liam Neeson’s voice booms in an authoratitive fashion as the destructive tree monster who visits him by night. I imagine this could be illuminating for some kids, too scary for others, and perhaps a little too obvious for those that have grown up quicker than the rest. (***½)