A Monster Calls ***

by D.R. Huffman

Liam Neeson’s Tree Monster saves "A Monster Calls" from being an average film.  

Is it worth $10? Yes

Fair warning: The heft of “A Monster Calls” darkens the mood and downright depresses.  Though it can be uncomfortable and hard to sit through at times, it is a worthwhile film.

The movie revolves around a 12-year-old boy named Conor’s (Lewis MacDougall) difficulties dealing with his mother’s failing health. The Tree Monster (Liam Neeson), with his ancient wisdom, arrives to guide the boy on his journey.

Felicity Jones does a fine job as the boy Conor’s mom, and Sigourney Weaver, as the grandma, reminds us that she is one hell of a talent. She’s strict and firm, but Weaver manages to imbue a gentleness, kindness, and vulnerability to the character that makes her sympathetic and likable. Lewis MacDougall also does a good job as Conor, and near the end of the film he goes for broke with some deeply affecting scenes—impressive.

By far, the standout is Neeson as The Tree Monster. He’s fairly terrifying and imposing, and it’s both soothing and scary to listen to his richly deep voice here. Every time his character is on screen he commands your complete attention.

The tree’s tales are told through beautifully animated sequences, and each is complex and haunting. The rest of the film feels somewhat slow and not quite as interesting, and it’s a bit of a shame that the non-Neeson scenes fail to captivate the way the Tree Monster scenes do.

Oscar Faura’s cinematography, on the other hand, mesmerizes. Several scenes and shots really take your breath away. One in particular involves The Tree Monster’s initial approach to Conor’s window (you’ll know it when you see it).

All in all, “A Monster Calls” is a fine little film. The scenes with Liam Neeson’s Tree Monster elevate it to the level of memorable. If you’re a fan of movies that enjoy ripping and tearing at your heartstrings, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

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