A Monster Calls (JA Bayona, 2016)

What's it about? 12-year-old Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is in a tough place. His mother (Felicity Jones) has a terminal illness. His unsympathetic grandma (Sigourney Weaver) and estranged father (Toby Kebball) aren't really helping and he is being bullied at school. But one night a tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears at his window and promises to tell him 3 stories in return for one from Conor...

Is it any good? Don't look at me! I'm not crying - you are! I've just got something in my eye!

*Deep breaths. Blows nose. Composes himself.*

People told me this was sad. "Pah!", says I. "It'll take more than Liam Neeson as an Ent to make me blub!" Or so I thought. From inauspicious beginnings this crept up and punched me in the emotions so hard I was nearly asphyxiated by the lump in my throat. It caught me by surprise because it's a film with fantastical elements and SFX that initially seem to play too young for the seriousness of the topic, but on the other hand it is too dark and intense to be a film for kids. It also lacks the layers and nuances of, say, Pan's Labyrinth, with which it shares certain similarities, and relies on some straightforward coming-of-age tropes. So for over an hour I was relatively unmoved, even though I enjoyed the little animated vignettes which illustrate the Monster's stories and I liked Neeson's voicework, which is reassuringly frightening and comforting by turns. But turns out the key to the film's impact lies in the central performance from MacDougall, who is simply outstanding in quietly portraying Conor's inner resentment, fear, frustration and guilt. Thus, by the time he must tell his own story and reveal his most private 'truth' to the Monster, it was truly, deeply, devastatingly moving. Seriously, it was like Niagara Falls time. So definitely watch it. Just not with kids. Or your mates. You have been warned.

Anything else I should know? Based on the award-winning book by Patrick Ness, which in turn was based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, who poignantly came up with the story when she herself was dying of cancer. Here's an interview with Ness on how he grappled with both the novel and adaptation for the screen.

What does the Fonz think? A Monster Bawls

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