A Monster Calls is based on an idea by writer and activist Siobhan Dowd, who sadly died from cancer in 2007 before she could develop her story to print. Her ideas were developed into a book by Patrick Ness in 2011 and illustrated by Jim Kay where it went on to receive a number of childrens literary awards.
The story is set in a very dreary looking England and features a boy called Conor struggling to cope with his mother’s terminal cancer. His father is divorced from his mother and is living in the States with his new family. He’s bullied at school and he’s troubled by nightmares. And then he starts being visited at night by a monster who tells him 3 stories. It’s a bleak tale about the harshness of life, and I was kind of worried about how my 11 year old daughter might take to it when she said she wanted to see it with me.
J.A.Bayona, director of The Orphanage, handles the subject matter well, showing us how a child’s fantasy can make sense of the world and their feelings. The stories told by the monster occur over a number of days and are beautifully depicted in watercolour animation. Each one providing its own lesson to be learned in life. Liam Neeson is the monster, the large yew tree that Conor can see from his bedroom window, giving his best Aslan voice. Felicity Jones is the mother, gradually dying as each cancer drug fails. Sigourney Weaver is the grandmother who Conor reluctantly goes to stay with while his mother is receiving treatment.
The monster itself, the great yew tree, is a real triumph. Beautifully rendered and realistically interacting with its surroundings. When you consider the films meagre budget of 43 million dollars, it’s breathtaking what they’ve managed to achieve.
As expected, the movie really packs a punch with barely any humour or lightheartedness. There are times it’s a little too slow and gloomy, but it’s hard hitting thought provoking and intense. I don’t mind admitting that both me and my daughter found ourselves in tears towards the end too. Along with most of the cinema!