Twelve year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is having a hard time. His mother (Felicity Jones) is incurably ill and his father (Toby Kebbell) lives thousands of miles away. Conor gets on badly with Grandma (Sigourney Weaver), and at school he is bullied. He has to cope by himself with everything that is going on. Until in his fantasy the huge tree in the cemetery comes to life and lends him a hand.
A Monster Calls is a remarkably candid portrayal of loss, suffering and bereavement based on the award-winning book of the same name by Patrick Ness. In his film version, the Catalonian director Bayona looks for inspiration to a rich tradition in Spanish cinema: films in which children brave life via the nebulous and indirect pathways of imagination. Conor, for instance, dreams about his tree giant after he has watched King Kong (1933).
The film’s tricks and animations are subtle and always help the character development. It is striking just how fantastic the acting is, in particular by the talented young Lewis MacDougall. Whether he is facing people or an imaginary monster, his acting is completely natural and makes Conor’s struggle intensely palpable without any histrionics. In Spain A Monster Calls won both eight Goya and eight Gaudi awards: including for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Design.