**1/2 stars (out of four)
Movies can and should address profoundly depressing subject matter. But it’s often a difficult balancing act to do so. There’s a smaller margin for error. These movies need to truly punch you in the heart to make the sadness of the film worth experiencing. Sadly, director J.A. Bayona’s new film A Monster Calls did not quite do that.
A boy (Lewis MacDougall) is having difficulty dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) battle with terminal cancer. As a means of coping, he imagines a giant tree monster (Liam Neeson) who imparts some life lessons. At the same time, he struggles with a bully at school and a strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).
Bayona is a talented director, the film’s special effects are good, and the acting is fine. There’s not a lot on a technical level to be too critical about here. But on a visceral, emotional level, it does not connect the way it needs to for the difficult subject matter to be fully worthwhile, even if parts of it are admirable.
Warning: even though A Monster Calls is rated PG, the subject matter is likely to be quite upsetting for small children.