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Monster Calls, A


Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell. Voice of Liam Neeson

Director: J A Bayona

A huge tear-jerker that's also a rather strange, one-of-a-kind fantasy film. Conor (MacDougall) is an angry boy of 12, brilliant at school, but with a dying mother (Jones) at home, soon to be looked after by a grandmother (Weaver) he hates.

Almost without knowing it, Conor evokes a tree monster (Neeson) who tells him it is not his grandma he needs saving from...

Meanwhile, his mother quickly deteriorates, there's a brief visit from his father (Kebbell), long divorced from mum, and the tree-monster tells Conor three stories, one concerning a prince and a queen who were not as they appeared, one about a parson and an apothecary and a third concerning a man who considers himself invisible.

For the promised fourth tale, Conor must relive his own worst nightmare, and bring his real feelings into the open.

MacDougall is just OK by modern child-player standards, but Neeson aces the voice of the tree monster, Jones will make you cry as the dying mum, and Weaver struggles manfully with her English accent, although the idea of casting a six-foot American lady as the mother of of a 5ft 3in English girl is almost as bizarre as the film itself - which may appeal more to susceptible male emotions than practical female ones, who will point out that the story is irredeemably flawed since the monster isn't really there.

Nonetheless, the three tales are vividly portrayed in papier-maché animation, apart from slight wobbles when the monster picks the boy up his hand. Blink and you'll miss Geraldine Chaplin as the boy's headmistress.

David Quinlan

UK/USA/Canada/Spain 2016. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour by deluxe.
108 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 24 Dec 2016