A bullied English schoolboy (Lewis MacDougall) conjures up a monster out of an ancient yew tree.
Young MacDougall (very impressive) has plenty of woes to deal with. His mum (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill with breast cancer, his unreliable father (Toby Kebbell) lives in California with his new family and he doesn’t get on with his strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).
In the midst of his troubles, he’s visited each night at 12.07 by a gnarly tree monster (wonderfully voiced by Liam Neeson), who promises to tell him three stories, after which he must offer his own tale.
Director JA Bayona, maker of Spanish horror film The Orphanage and real-life tsunami drama The Impossible, does a spectacular job of conjuring up the monster’s rampaging nightly visitations, deploying the talents of members of the creative team behind Oscar-winning fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. The eerie watercolour animation of the monster’s fable-like tales is similarly enchanting.
But it is the actors’ soulful performances that anchor the film in reality and provide its emotional resonance. The result is an adaptation of Patrick Ness’ believed children’s book that is scary in places, sad in others, but ultimately uplifting in its celebration of the healing power of the imagination.