To have starred in a film like Pan alongside Hugh Jackman is astonishing enough for Edinburgh schoolchild Lewis MacDougall. To then so confidently take the leading role of Connor O’Mally in this dark and fantastical tale marks him out as truly remarkable. It could not have been easy – it is shrouded in death and despair. It is a difficult watch at times.
But watch it you should; A Monster Calls is a film worthy of MacDougall’s impressive performance. His mother (Felicity Jones) is dying from a terminal illness. One night, the giant tree in the village graveyard comes to life. The Monster (Liam Neeson) says he will tell Connor O’Mally three stories, before he then tells the Monster a fourth.
This is a deeply emotional but brilliantly imaginative insight into the way one young boy deals with mental anguish. Patrick Ness’ screenplay flips between moments of raw real world distress and explosions of colour and imagination, as you are absorbed into the stories which the Monster has to tell.
There are moments that are perhaps too upsetting for A Monster Calls to be considered a kids film, but then there are others in which adults will sense how it is aimed at younger viewers. Far from being a criticism, we finally have a film to place in the void between young and old which authors like Garth Nix have been filling with books for some time now.
What you are treated to visually is as impressive as it is wonderful. Not just the Monster himself – a gargantuan figure of incredible detail, topped off with Neeson’s aged and groaning voice – but also the storytelling sequences, which feature mind-bending colour and succeed in bringing viewers deep into the stories being told.
A Monster Calls is a film as twisted as it is grounded, and as gentle as it is heart-wrenching, and featuring a 14-year-old boy from Kingsknowe who is no longer destined to become a star. He already is one.
Image: Karen Seto