Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and newcomer Lewis MacDougall star in a heartwrenching film that tackles the pain of loss and isolation head on. We talk to the cast about "navigating a forest of mixed emotions".

Interview with Liam Neeson and Lewis MacDougall

Liam Neeson’s sonorous, gravely voice is so fitting for the giant yew tree it embodies—the titular monster of A Monster Calls—it’s almost surprising to discover that it actually stems from a human larynx.

Think about films featuring anthropomorphic trees and you’re likely to conjure up the gentle Grandmother Willow of Pocahontas or the alien Groot, who stole the show in 2014’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy. Neeson’s monster is a different species entirely. A gnarled behemoth, twisted by roots that fill every inch of the screen whenever it appears, this tree is genuinely quite terrifying.

 

 

"A thundery exploration of grief and how intimately it touches us"

 

 

Not quite the guardian angel, then, that young Conor O’Malley (a breath-taking performance from 13-year-old Lewis MacDougall) was hoping would guide him through his mother’s (Felicity Jones) battle with cancer.

A Monster Calls, starring Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
"I wish I had a hundred years I could give to you"

An immersive, fantastical adaptation of Patrick Ness’s children’s book of the same name, A Monster Calls is a thundery exploration of grief and how intimately it touches us. It’s extraordinarily frank, with no emotion airbrushed. Young Conor doesn’t spend much time crying. He does spend a lot of time breaking things.

Lewis MacDougall’s raw performance is outstanding. His rendering of Conor’s anger, fear and repression as he tries to hold himself together for his dying mother hits as hard as the punches Conor constantly weathers from schoolyard bullies.

A Monster Calls isn’t a perfect film. When Neeson’s tree dubs Conor “a boy too old to be a kid, too young to be a man” he could also be describing the script, which pitches itself slightly too old for children and too young for adults. It will, however, strike a chord with parents.

A Monster Calls starring Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Signourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver as Conor's grief-stricken grandmother

At times the tree distracts from the drama. The final goodbye between Conor and his mother would have been far more moving without the imposing CGI yew in the background. But in some ways, A Monster Calls is a more poignant film for its imperfections. To make a perfectly polished film about a grief so raw would, perhaps, entirely miss the point.

 

Liam Neeson reads from Patrick Ness’s original novel, A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls opens in cinemas across the UK on New Year's Day

 

Liam Neeson also stars in the new historical epic Silence, which opens on January 1st across the UK. He talks to us about the nature of the film and about working with director Martin Scorsese.

 

Read more: Our favourite films of 2016

 

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