A MONSTER CALLS is a hater of tissues. Yep, this movie, while brilliant, is one of the saddest movies I have ever seen. I sat in a cinema and watched this by myself and openly sobbed. It is a dark and horrific look at dealing with grief wrapped in a coming-of-age movie and if you see it you will cry or you have no heart. Everything about this movie is both beautiful and sad. A MONSTER CALLS is out now from Entertainment One. It is rated PG and runs for an eye leaking 108mins.


A Monster Calls Lewis MacDougall image
Lewis MacDougall




How do you deal with death and grief? Better still how do you deal with it as a young pre-teen with a single mum while your father lives on the other side of the planet and your grandmother is scary and has nothing in common with you. You are about to be alone, you know it, everyone knows it, but there is nothing that can be done besides waiting for your mother to die. FUCK CANCER!

Twelve-year-old Conor O’Malley must face his mother’s terminal cancer, his strict grandmother, his estranged father, and his school bully. One night at 12:07 a.m., Conor is visited by a tree-like Monster, who tells Conor it has come to tell him three true stories, after which Conor must tell the Monster his own story: the truth behind his nightmare, which Conor refuses to do. Through the Monster, Conor ultimately understands that although he does not want his mother to die, it is something he must accept. Stuff it – just start crying now!


A Monster Calls Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall image
Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall



J.A. Bayona is a wonderful director. After Spanish short movies and music videos he smashed onto the international stage with the sublime EL ORFANATO aka THE ORPHANAGE. A movie most would mistake as coming from Guillermo del Toro, the executive producer and horror maestro. Following this he introduced me to Tom Holland in THE IMPOSSIBLE and did the only movie on the tsunami worthy of screen time. A visual director indeed Bayona then turned his hand to A MONSTER CALLS, a movie on the Hollywood blacklist since 2013. A much loved script yet unmade in Hollywood. I can see why, it’s no blockbuster and this movie had to be made personally, it needed to be fed a little of your soul to make it.

“If you need to be break things…….by god, you break them.”

It’s about death of a mother, and it’s from a child’s point of you, the places you would need that kid to go mentally would be cruel. It then had to have a melancholic but heroic fantasy element of grandfatherly protection. It would be dark, it would never be a box office smash and it had to be made as a love letter to grief itself. Bayona did this and he did it marvellously. I am forever grateful I saw it and its wonderful fantasy and heart-wrenching pain, but I could not watch it again. I will not buy this on HD Blu Ray, because it is a pain I do not want to visit again.


Technically everything about this movie is flawless. The fantasy elements are wondrous. It is like Treebeard from LORD OF THE RINGS moved near this kid and his family for eternal protection and the monster’s CGI is as good as LOTR. The animation sequences are also beautiful and elevate the movie from the depths of despair into something spiritual, the fantasy makes it ok and something you hope children going through this despair actually had. Said fantasy animations look like the Deathly Hallows animations from the Harry Potter movies.

The level of sad of the movie increases. The author died before she could finish the book. At only 47 Siobhan Dowd died of breast cancer, it is my belief she wrote this for the children of the world knowing her approaching fate. Her influences of J.M. Barrie, Tolkien and A.A. Milne are evident in the story. Patrick Ness finished the book in 2011 with credits to her original idea. Ness’s THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO is one of my favourite books.


A Monster Calls Lewis MacDougall image
Lewis MacDougall and the Tree



If that level of sadness wasn’t enough it will break your heart to know that the lead actor, Lewis McDougall, the 12yr old boy, his real life mother died less than two years before A MONSTER CALLS was filmed. That brilliance you see in his acting, he didn’t have to dive deep for it. There is a scene where he is screaming at the monster, it was Oscar level acting, it broke my heart when I discovered that raw emotion and delivery was from the heart, not from skills. McDougall outperforms everyone in this movie, even Sigourney Weaver, one of my all time favourite actors. Felicity Jone’s performance is painful to watch. To see that deterioration in the character will truly hurt people who have gone through this. Weaver is, of course, marvellous and Liam Neeson is a wonderful tree voice.

A little known piece of trivia that makes me smile a little bit; Tom Holland aka Spider-Man, is the movie’s stand in for the tree. That screaming McDougall would have been doing, was mostly being directed at Holland. It makes me a little warm on the inside and reminds me of Holland as the support for his younger brothers in THE IMPOSSIBLE.


A Monster Calls Lewis MacDougall image
Lewis MacDougall



A MONSTER CALLS is a movie school children need to study. It covers so many elements of wonder and life truth that would benefit them on many levels. Lewis McDougall’s performance is one of my favourites of 2017 and director J.A. Bayona can do no wrong in my eyes. The blending of epic grief with wonderful fantasy makes the pain a little easier to bear. In closing, again, FUCK CANCER.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.