Last year I read a book entitled A Monster Calls, which when I read the synopsis sounded like it was right up my alley. Monsters and nightmares are kind of my thing in case that wasn’t obvious by now. But what I got when I read the story was something entirely unexpected and it became one of my favorite books ever just like that. It was a story that dealt with emotions and loss in a way that I had never seen before and I loved it dearly.
And then one day I happened to find out they were making a movie based on this book and I got incredibly excited. Finally, for once I could see a movie based on a book where I read the book first even before I knew about the movie. That doesn’t happen like… ever. And I just saw that movie this past week so I’m going to give my thoughts on it now.
Now, while I wouldn’t normally continually make comparisons to the book when talking about a movie, I feel like with this one it’s warranted, mostly because this is the most accurate book-to-movie adaptation I have ever seen, and that’s probably due to the fact that the author of the book, Patrick Ness, also wrote the screenplay for the movie. While it has been awhile since I read the book, I remember it enough to know that this movie followed the book basically to a t. There were some minor changes here and there obviously to accommodate the medium change, but the story itself stayed intact, which is always good to see.
I don’t really want to say too much about this story’s plot because it almost feels like a spoiler, but I’m not sure how I can talk about it any other way so consider this your spoiler warning. The basic premise of this story is that the main character, Conor, is woken in the middle of the night by a monster that comes walking. The monster is a yew tree that sits on the hill behind his house. The monster says it will tell him three stories, and once it has finished telling its stories, Conor will tell the monster a fourth; this story will be the nightmare that has been haunting Conor for some time now, and it will end with the truth.
Between the segments with the monster we get to see what Conor’s life is like. His mother is very ill, his father left them a long time ago and has a new family, his grandmother is incredibly strict and he doesn’t like her at all, and he gets bullied a lot at school. All of these elements are combining together to essentially tell the story of a young boy struggling with extreme emotions and not knowing how to deal with them – or for that matter, no one else knowing how to deal with him either. The monster comes to help him deal with them.
One of the things about the book that was most striking to me was the beautiful and haunting charcoal-like illustrations all throughout the book. Those illustrations helped give the book an atmosphere that would not have been there if they had been left out. The movie does something similar, having several sections animated in vibrant watercolor. It’s visually stunning and just really pretty to look at. And then there’s the monster. The effects to create the monster were breathtaking. It was beautiful and wild and terrifying and Liam Neeson did a wonderful job voicing the monster.
I’m not sure how much more I can express my love for this story without spoiling the whole thing, so all I can do is say that you should go watch the movie, or read the book – or better yet, why not do both? It will probably take you on an emotional roller coaster and make you cry like it did for me, but that’s okay. Crying over stories is a great feeling sometimes.
These are the sorts of stories that I wish I could tell.