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Running Time:
1 hr. 48 min.

Rating: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.

Rating Explanation:
for thematic content and some scary images

Additional Info:
Lewis MacDougall ... Conor
Sigourney Weaver ... Grandma
Felicity Jones ... Mum
Toby Kebbell ... Dad
Ben Moor ... Mr. Clark
James Melville ... Harry
Oliver Steer ... Sully
Dominic Boyle ... Anton
Jennifer Lim ... Miss Kwan
Max Gabbay ... Steven
Morgan Symes ... Lawyer
Max Golds ... 5-Year-Old Connor
Frida Palsson ... Lily's Mum
Wanda Opalinska ... Nurse
Patrick Taggart ... Teacher

A Monster Calls

A twelve-year old British lad Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is an aspiring artist, drawing fantastical figures in his treasured notebook. But his home life is in terrible shape. His father (Toby Kebbell) has abandoned the family and gone to America, where he now has a new life, and his mother Lizzy (Felicity Jones) is suffering from cancer, which a series of treatments fail to arrest. His father comes to visit and suggests that Conor go to join him (and his new family) across the Atlantic, but nothing comes of it; and when Lizzy is taken off to the hospital, the boy will have to go live with his stern, severe grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). Conor is equally miserable at school, where a bully (James Melville) regularly torments him.

No wonder Conor is having terrifying nightmares about the ground opening up in the craggy field nearby, where a church stands along with its cemetery, and swallowing Lizzy. Help of an enigmatic sort arrives in the curious form of the huge yew tree that looms over the cemetery, which suddenly uproots itself and comes to Conor’s window to announce, (in the voice of Liam Neeson), that it will return on the three nights following to tell him a series of stories—after which he will be obliged to tell the tree one of his own.

The first two tales told by the tree—which reappears each night at precisely 12:07, a time that will obviously have special meaning by the close—mingle Liam’s baritone with animation. In the first, a prince tries to flee from his stepmother, a wicked witch who hopes to marry him to retain her hold on power, after his father dies. He takes with him the lovely girl he loves, but as they sleep beneath the tree’s branches the girl is murdered, and the prince immediately throws suspicion for her death on the queen. But the tale takes a surprising turn that shocks Conor.

On the next night, the tree relates the story of a greedy apothecary who once asked the priest of the church for permission to cut down the yew tree so that he could use it as an ingredient in his medicines. The priest adamantly refuses, citing his religious beliefs; but when his own children fall ill and he needs the apothecary’s help, his faith is tested. Once again, the story challenges the boy’s—and our—expectations about heroism and villainy. The overarching lesson of both of the tree’s tales is that things are never as simple as they seem, and that one must accept the fact that life is complex. 

But the images aren’t everything, of course, and when one looks beneath the gorgeous surface, directed by J.A. Bayona ("The Impossible"), there’s less to the movie than meets the eye.

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