A Monster Calls | Chicago Reader

A Monster Calls

Rich in folkloric symbolism, this fantasy from director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) starts promisingly but eventually sinks under a wave of pop psychology. A 12-year-old schoolboy (Lewis MacDougall) suffers nightmares about losing his divorced, cancer-ridden mom (Felicity Jones); visits from his father (Toby Kebbell) and grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) do little to assuage his fears, but an ancient yew tree that morphs into a giant humanoid storyteller (Liam Neeson in a motion-capture performance) presents insights the youngster can grasp. Neeson propels the action with his luxuriant baritone, and the 2D animation sequences by Barcelona-based Headless Productions upend fairy tale conventions in droll and horrific fashion. The influence of Bayona's mentor Guillermo del Toro can be seen in the intricate production design of Eugenio Caballero (Pan's Labyrinth), but the tone of the film is more dreary than dark.

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