A Monster Calls (2017) - Rotten Tomatoes

A Monster Calls (2017)

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Critic Consensus: A Monster Calls deftly balances dark themes and fantastical elements to deliver an engrossing and uncommonly moving entry in the crowded coming-of-age genre.

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Movie Info

A visually spectacular drama from director J.A. Bayona ("The Impossible"). 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), dealing with his mother's (Felicity Jones) illness, a less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and bullying classmates, finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster appears at his bedroom window. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth. Toby Kebbell plays Conor's father, and Liam Neeson stars in performance-capture and voiceover as the nocturnally visiting Monster of the title.

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Cast

Liam Neeson
as The Monster
Ben Moor
as Mr. Clark
Jennifer Lim
as Miss Kwan
Max Gabbay
as Steven
Max Golds
as 5-Year-Old Conor
Frida Palsson
as Lily's Mom
Wanda Opalinska
as Female Nurse
Geraldine Chaplin
as Head Teacher
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News & Interviews for A Monster Calls

Critic Reviews for A Monster Calls

All Critics (220) | Top Critics (42)

The movie delivers its meaning repeatedly to make sure that no one misses the point; its lessons, rendered even more explicitly than the ones in Conor's classroom, are missing only the chalkboard and pointer.

January 23, 2017 | Full Review…
New Yorker
Top Critic

As the movie rumbled toward its inevitably devastating conclusion, the chief emotion I felt wasn't sadness but annoyance at the dashed grander potential.

January 8, 2017 | Full Review…
The Atlantic
Top Critic

Director J.A. Bayona presents appealing worlds (real and imagined) awash in color and detail, but while his movie and its monster are very interested in exploring and explaining humanity, they don't quite get people.

January 6, 2017 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…
San Diego Reader
Top Critic

Too mature to lure in the younger set and too one-dimensional to make much of an impression on adult audiences.

January 6, 2017 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

This is a tough movie that takes on adult issues and doesn't shy away from the grim realities of its subject matter. But that's what makes this grim children's story work. It's a work of lovely darkness.

January 6, 2017 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…
Detroit News
Top Critic

This makes for one overcrowded assemblage of issues.

January 5, 2017 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for A Monster Calls

So here we have yet another adaptation of a children's book that you could be mistaken for thinking was a light-hearted fantasy romp...but it sooo isn't. Certainly the movies poster looks very fairytale-esque and the plot sounds very quaint and whimsical, but prepare for a shock. Not a horrible shock, just a slightly glum, depressing and slow burning shock. This tale focuses on the young lad, Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall), growing up in the north of England (I'm guessing in Lancashire?) with his strict grandmother, estranged father and terminally ill mother. Obviously there is a lot of emotion in this young boys life with his father now living in the US with another woman and his mother slowly dying. On top of all that his future looks glum as he will soon be living with his grandmother whom he does not get on with, oh and he gets bullied at school (Jesus!). Well one night, around 12.07 am, an old gnarly tree at the back of his house starts to transform into a huge living entity, a tree-like monster. The monster approaches and confronts a very afraid Conor telling him that at the same time, over a period of time, he will tell him three true stories from the past. Once these stories have been told Conor must then tell the creature a true story of his own. Now of course its not hard to realise that these three stories will in fact reflect the boys life in parts, they will be windows into his emotions. Of course the real question the movie makes you ask is whether or not this tree monster is in fact a real creature or merely the boys wild imagination. The [b]first[/b] story is of an old King who marries a young beautiful woman suspected of being a witch. The King soon dies and his people suspect the Queen of killing him in order to gain power. The Queen actually rules well but plots to marry off the Kings only Prince so she can retain power. The Prince runs away with a farm girl until such time that he can return and be crowned King. One morning the Prince awakens to find the young farm girl murdered, naturally the Prince assumes the Queen killed her so he rallies the people against her. Just before the mob can reach the Queen the tree creature whisks her away to safety. The Queen did not kill the King or the farm girl, nor was she a specifically bad witch. Twas the Prince who killed the farm girl in order to try and overthrow the young Queen and gain power. This story relates to Conor's grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) in the sense that while she is strict and kinda unlikable, she has never actually done anything wrong in regards to Conor. She has actually looked after him very well and Conor is failing to understand her situation under the current circumstances. Much like the Queen who didn't actually do anything wrong, people believed she was evil and thought she would commit evil, but she did not. The [b]second[/b] story revolves around an old apothecary who believed in traditional medicines and potions, herbs and brews etc...In order to make up more medicines the apothecary pesters the local parson to cut down a Yew tree within the church yard. The parson refuses this request point blank and becomes fed up with the apothecary. The parson does not agree with the apothecaries traditional ways and slowly manages to turn his congregation against the old medicine man. Some time later the Parsons two children becomes very ill and nothing can help, so he turns to the apothecary. Of course the apothecary asks why he should help him after he took away all his custom and refused the Yew tree for which to make cures. The parson agrees to cut down the tree and bring his congregation back, the apothecary declines and the parson's children die. The tree creature appears and destroys the parson's house as punishment. The reason being the the apothecary stuck to his beliefs and could have saved lives, the parson changed his beliefs to suit himself, convenience. This story may relate to Conor's estranged father in regards to him choosing an easy path, much like the pastor. Conor's father has basically left his mother and is enjoying life in America whilst they carry on the daily grind in the UK. He obviously comes back when Conor's mother is ill but it doesn't seem genuine, more of a reluctant duty, changing his position to suit himself. But he obviously cares enough to come back, he cares enough for his son, so I'm unsure on this one. I was also surprised that Conor didn't really receive any punishment for destroying his grandmothers living room (which he does in a trance like state when the creature describes destroying the parson's house). I was also surprised that this event didn't result in Conor getting some psychological assistance. The [b]third[/b] story was about an invisible man who grew tired of people not seeing him. So the man summoned the tree creature to make him visible. The tree creature helps the man but he soon discovers there are harder things in life than people not seeing or noticing you. Whilst this story is being told the tree creature possesses Conor and beats up the school bully. Again I'm not so sure about this one, could it be the creature is the invisible man in the story? The creature realises that being invisible isn't as hard as it thought, only after it beats the bully too much? Does it represent Conor feeling unnoticed during his life? Is it me or did there seem to be a homosexual vibe between the bully and Conor? The [b]final[/b] story that Conor must tell involves him confronting his own nightmare...or face being eaten by the tree creature. Conor's mother is standing near a cliff when it starts to collapse in on itself. His mother falls but Conor reaches her in time, grabbing her by the hand. Conor must hang on to his mother to prevent her from falling to her death. After a short time Conor is seemingly unable to hold on anymore and his mother falls. The tree creature puts a lot of pressure on Conor to speak the truth regarding the incident and eventually Conor admits he let his mother go on purpose. Why? because he could not stand the pain of having to hold on. He can no longer stand the suffering of watching his mother slowly die in reality, he wants the emotional pain to finally end. Conor does not want his mother to die, but he understands it will happen, he must come to accept it and ultimately he wants/needs the whole ordeal to end. All of the story sequences appear to have been animated in watercolours to me. While all of the film is live action with the tree creature being CGI, these sequences do stand out beautifully with this fresh approach. They certainly give the film some much needed colour and excitement because truth be told there is little else going on. That's not to say the film is poor, its a slow moving drama set in the bleak countryside of Lancashire so the animated sequences are vital. Truth be told the stories are kinda odd and don't really make much sense in relation to the main protagonist. They are suppose to represent the stages of Conor's early life and emotional state but I didn't see the connection at times. The second story I especially didn't really agree with. Sure I understand that the parson didn't stick by his beliefs and in the end it was his own fault that the apothecary didn't have any possible cures at the right time. But Jesus man, talk about being harsh on this guy even after his kids die! At times the film is visually alluring, as said the story sequences, and of course whenever the tree creature pops up. You have this blend of gritty reality in England mixed with moments that could have come from a twisted fairytale flick of Tim Burton. Essentially this is a character driven feature and its all about the performances. Well our main protagonist Lewis MacDougall certainly acts the shit outta this. While I did find his scowling somewhat annoying and his character did come across as a bit of an unhinged brat, this young actor is most certainly one to watch for the future. I couldn't quite relate to him mainly because I didn't really like the character of Conor but that doesn't detract from his acting talent. On the flip side you have the voice talent of Liam Neeson as the tree creature. Sterling decision it has to be said because Neeson's voice, when lowered, has that perfect tone to make you slowly drift off to sleep. His voice fits the creature perfectly giving the character some real depth and gravitas. Which was needed because even though the creature appears to be faithful to the book, it looks a bit [i]Lord of the Rings[/i]-esque really doesn't it, hard not to think it. The design is definitely nice, just a bit late in the game really, also it did look weird having this yuge twisted gnarly tree all by its lonesome behind this house. It looked like the old tree from 'Sleepy Hollow'. Not sure why they decided to cast Sigourney Weaver as a British grandmother, strange. Certainly the themes here are very strong, very emotional at times and frankly way beyond most kids comprehension methinks. I haven't read the book so I can't compare the material. Personally I can't see any kids really enjoying or understanding this and its, dare I say, bleak sobering lessons of reality. But hey what do I know about kids these days. But I won't lie, the film is a bit of a slog at times, there is a whole heap of family drama in here that moves slowly. If you're not overly familiar with the British lifestyle then you may feel even more in the dark at times because this is definitely British. All in all, saying this is a coming of age story is an understatement. This film could leave youngsters emotional wrecks as it exposes the bare bones of early childhood experiences. High drama and at times high fantasy, which kinda goes nowhere really. Overall it will leave you with mixed emotions and probably some questions, but the ending will see you reaching for a hanky.

Phil Hubbs
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

½

Who is the audience for this picture? Maybe fantasy fanatics who want to recall their childhood or perhaps anyone who has gone trough a similarly traumatic experience and can identify with this young protagonist. A Monster Calls is artifice fabricated from gorgeous components. The CGI, the musical score, the animated tales are all beautifully put together. It is a visually inventive production. There's so much to recommend initially that it makes the ultimate denouement such a crushing disappointment., The hackneyed and commonplace ending doesn't justify all that came before it. We get the tear-jerky finale that we've been promised but it feels forced. I was indifferent. It goes through the motions of a sad ending, but we're missing the humanity. fastfilmreviews.com

Mark Hobin
Mark Hobin

Super Reviewer

As of a few years ago, it was certain that director J.A. Bayona would be a name to remember. With his feature debut in The Impossible, I was blown away and looking forward to anything his mind was ready to dish out next. With his latest venture in A Monster Calls, he has proven himself as a significant staple in modern cinema. This is not only one of the most beautifully told films of 2016, but also one of the most sincere dramas I have witnessed in recent memory. The trailers make it would to be a grand fantasy with a boy and a tree that comes to life, but it really isn't that at all. It definitely has those elements, but the meaning behind them will bring tears to all. I found myself on the verge of tears throughout the entire third act. Here is why A Monster Calls is one of my favourite films of 2016 (if not my absolute favourite). Trying to cope with his mother's cancer and inevitable death, young Conor seeks out the companionship of a tree that comes to life in his time of need. Telling him stories that relate to his current situation and life in general, his existence is to ease the pain of his dying mother. What the trailers of this film fail to show, is the fact that his existence means much more to the film than meets the eye. I refuse to speak about the specifics of the reason he is around, due to the fact that certain scenes hold a few of the most beautiful cinematic reveals of the year. This film is made out to be a fantasy, but its presentation is a fantastical drama through a child's mind. There are many more layers throughout this film than one might think. Heavy, but not when it comes to casting the right people in a film, it all comes down to whether or not they will be able to carry the film as a whole or deliver in the way that the director is expecting them to. In his very few appearances throughout film, Lewis MacDougall has now fully proven his talents. As young Conor, he was able to portray a character who is both able to fantasize as most kids do, as well as grieve in a very believable manor. His performance made me completely entranced and I was along for the ride the entire duration. A Monster Calls doesn't have a single dull moment. Not only is his performance fantastic for his age, but the cast around him only elevates the rest of the film. Practical vs. aforementioned, this film presents itself as a full on fantasy with a boy and a tree. Yes, there are dramatic elements hinted throughout the trailer, but they are much heavier in the context of the film. Felicity Jones plays Conor's dying mother and for me personally, this is the greatest performance I have ever seen her give. She was able to bring me to tears with her portrayal of a dying mother and I found her final moments the most effective piece of filmmaking that I have seen in all of 2016. For these reasons alone, this already incredibly told story will easily make it to the top of my list for 2016. It's a very rare sight to see a mesh of CGI and practical effects. Normally a film chooses to go with one of the two routes, usually in favour of CGI in recent memory. Director J.A. Bayona chooses to showcase a blend of both and that may just be one of the biggest compliments I can give this film. There are moments of pure cinematic joy when practical effects and miniatures are utilized, but it is never noticeable, making the CGI blend perfectly with the practical effects. It just goes to show that classic filmmaking isn't dead and that new-age filmmaking has come a very long way. Some A-List directors like Martin Scorsese are on record in saying that cinema is on the verge of death and that no new filmmakers will ever be able to match what the classics have been able to achieve. Throughout the past few years, I would normally agree with that statement, but the fact that smaller/independent films like this are still made each year, reinvigorate my hope. In the end, A Monster Calls is not just a perfect film in what it sets out to execute, but it's a beautiful depiction of how kids may have to deal with cancer in their family. There are some very heavy themes here that are handled with enormous care. I was in tears from start to finish at how well-made, well-structured, and how it was able to impact me by the end. This is new-age filmmaking at its finest and I would not be surprised if this ends up being my favourite film of 2016 once I have finished catching up. Please, do yourself a favour and check out A Monster Calls.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

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