“Conor” (Lewis MacDougall) is a young lad, bullied at school, with a sick mother and overbearing scary grandmother (Sigourney Weaver)
What Conor has in spades is imagination which is just as well, he has plenty to escape from in the real world.
Complemented by beautiful opening credits, the film opens to sketch out the life of Conor and his small family. His mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill and is seeking a cure, with each treatment manifestly moving ever closer to the “last chance”.
As Conor attempts to deal with the hand he has been dealt, the film blurs fantasy and real life. So convincingly that at no point are you are pulled out of the story. Even when at 12:07, a large yew tree on the horizon, comes to life and starts conversing with him in the voice of Liam Neeson through his bedroom window, it’s clear we are departing from the usual coming of age story formula.
The “monster” recounts three beautifully and artfully animated dark fairy-tales, designed to help Conor understand and deal with his feelings and emotions. Fantasy and real life interweave, what happens in the “other” world can and does have repercussions in real life.
The film gradually builds from what appears to be a simple children’s story premise, to a powerfully emotional denouement, arguably only suited for teens and adults. The story needs a strong central character and sympathetic director J.A. Bayona has found one in MacDougall. At turns vulnerable and childlike, yet coming to terms with adult situations, he is consistently excellent throughout. This despite an intense emotional work out, which is shared with the audience in the closing scenes.
Weaver and Jones provide strong support although Toby Kebbell is a little bland, admittedly in a underwritten role as Conor’s only occasionally present Dad. Neeson brings his usual gravitas, investing the monster with humanity and some humour along the way.
A film like this can mean many things to different people, loss, grief, selfishness, understanding. What you bring to the film will determine what you take away but it will certainly resonate long after the closing credits. A credit to all involved, especially director Bayona and screenwriter/novelist Patrick Ness , who have taken an original idea from Siobhan Dowd, translating it beautifully, with great care and a consistent tone to the screen.
People are rarely all good or all bad and life for most people, is lived within the vast array of grey existing between these extremes. Learning to live, accept and love within that spectrum, is arguably the message of the story.
A film that starts small but builds to a real emotional wallop towards the final reel. Not a feel good film as such but deals with complex, real emotions with sensitivity and intelligence, which of course resulted in relatively low box office…
Highly recommended and well worth seeking out……tissues may be required