Connor is a young man under an extraordinary amount of stress. His mother (Felicity Jones) is dying and he’s getting bullied at school. The people that will be caring for him in the future are his dead-beat dad, who lives overseas, and his grandmother, who doesn’t understand him at all.
No longer a child and not yet an adult, Connor is struggling to cope with the complexity of the intense emotions he is naturally feeling, leading to terrifying nightmares that wake him in the middle of the night.
To escape the horror that is his life, Conner dives into a world of fantasy where he is visited by a massive yew tree that comes to life to share three seemingly-pointless stories on three separate and significant nights. Fantasy and reality become entwined as Conner struggles to understand the meaning of the stories and, in frustration, tries to force a conclusion, but not until he gives the Monster what he wants. The Monster wants the thing that Conner fears most: the truth.
Lewis MacDougall is wonderful as Conner as he successfully captures the sadness, confusion and anger of a young man at breaking point. Liam Neesons’ gruff and yet soothing voice is perfect for the monster, while Sigourney Weaver delivers the right blend of cold and caring for the misunderstood, well-meaning grandmother.
The special effects are simply brilliant, bringing Patrick Ness’s unusual story to life. However this film is more sad than scary and doesn’t contain the edge-of-your-seat intensity that you might expect from a film with ‘monster’ in the title.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona has been quoted as saying his films are largely about growing up. A Monster Calls is exactly that but it’s also different, dark and surprisingly complex. The difficulty is working out which audience this beautiful film is for. Its messages are probably too dark for kids and in many ways just sad and somewhat irrelevant for adults. However, there is a lot here for struggling young adults and for cinephiles who enjoy excellent special effects and a unique story presentation.
Reviewed by Ceri Hutton
Rating out of 10: 8
A Monster Calls was the closing night film of the BBC First British Film Festival, which ran 3 – 23 November 2016 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas. The film will have a general cinema release from 26 January 2017.