Based on the novel by Patrick Ness (who also wrote the screenplay), A Monster Calls focuses on Conor (brilliantly played by Lewis MacDougall), a young boy who fears losing his best friend in the world, his mother (Felicity Jones), to cancer. Mum seems to be on stronger medications, so that means she’ll get better, right?
Enter the yew tree, a tree-shaped monster voiced by Liam Neeson, and Grandma, voiced by Sigourney Weaver. Mum’s not getting better, they both say, in different ways, and it’s time for Connor to face facts, as hard as they may be. The yew tree thankfully does not have his daughter kidnapped and is not being eaten by wolves – rather the tree is a fearsome story-telling beast that has three stories to share, and in exchange, wants to hear one. The pleasure of this film comes from seeing these stories unfold: most in a watercolour animation style. In the tradition of Big Fish, A Monster Calls asks us to question the stories we tell ourselves, and is as visually striking as Hugo or The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (both recommended).
Hugo and Connor should meet one day – Connor enjoys watching the original King Kong with his mom, and proposes a revision of it where the mighty ape survives another day. We can be intolerant of difference, mum wisely says. She also points out, later, that Connor needn’t worry about things he never had the chance to say to her, because, well, she knows everything.
I needed to hear that. I don’t think I’m the only one. Kudos for having a family-friendly film about mental health issues that’s also entertaining and fun to watch.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2016 coverage.