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With Jim Sabatini


A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
Starring:
 Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell and Liam Neeson  


Rated: PG-13 for thematic content and some scary images.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 23, 2016 Released by: Focus Features

A fantasy-drama from J.A. Bayona (Orphanage, The Impossible) draws admirably from a 2011 Patrick Ness novel even if it's a tad maudlin and conniving in the final analysis. Though it often resonates as an emotional journey from its way about grief and loneliness.

A Monster Calls may have difficulty finding an audience as it fails to plumb the psychological depths of a Pan's Labyrinth while the Spanish helmer offers up a formidable impressionistic realism around a saturnine domesticity.

In a small English hamlet, young Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is coping with a debilitating illness of his mother (the busy Felicity Jones of the smash Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) when a tree behemoth arrives at his window promising him a trio of tales if he reciprocates one back which will be his truth. His dad (Toby Kebbell) happens to be Stateside and visits are rather few.

The computer graphics of the branching creature (shades of Groot and 'Swamp Thing') have a bewitching aura about them with Liam Neeson's discourse alternating between passion and compassion (as many are reminded of his messianic awe-inspiring Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia).

The stories are meant to be influential on such an impressionable lad (done with noticeable range by MacDougall) unaware of his artistic acumen exposed to an ominous fantastical realm. How they are juxtaposed with his troubling situation really doesn't offer immediacy to the drama. Arguably the result indicates more of a hindrance than an intriguing divertissement.

To his credit, nonetheless, Bayona obviously knows how to stage Ness's rendering of yearning and pain to noticeable effect especially after an intense sequence between Conor and his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). A Kleenex or two is well-advised except for callous types even if this Monster doesn't call with the same authorial constancy and continuity of its more potent progenitor.

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A Monster Calls  B      B   B                  B 

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