Stories are wild creatures
A bullied English schoolboy comes to terms with the trauma of his mother’s terminal illness by conjuring up a giant monster out of an ancient, graveyard yew tree in A Monster Calls, a moving live-action fantasy drama based on Patrick Ness’s beloved children’s book.
Young Conor (Lewis MacDougall, very impressive) has more than his share of woes: his divorced mother (tenderly played by Felicity Jones) is in the final stages of 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, drawing on her own English roots).
In the midst of his troubles, Conor finds himself visited each night at 12.07 by a gnarly tree monster (wonderfully voiced by Liam Neeson in a rumbling basso profondo), who promises to tell him three stories, after which he must offer his own story…
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. And 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 a movie that is scary in places, sad in others, but ultimately uplifting in its celebration of the healing power of the imagination.
Certificate 12. Runtime 108 mins. Director JA Bayona
A Monster Calls is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from Entertainment One.