The day it came out I devoured Patrick Ness' book A Monster Calls much like a giant monster tree devours little boy's imaginations. But it wasn't until I saw the story put on screen that I connected it with one of my favorite childhood films, Bernard Rose's underrated 1988 masterpiece Paperhouse. In that film a little girl's literally fevered imagination drags her into the strange netherworld of her own design via a landscape she draws, and through this dark and scary process she manages to work out some dark and scary familial issues that she otherwise wouldn't have been able to get a handle on.
It's about the healing power of putting our worst selves out there - of using our imaginations to sort out the bad stuff rumbling inside of us. Ness' book got that, and J.A. Bayona's film of that book does too. Grief and rage and pain can be beautiful and expressive things - they're as vital and necessary as any other human experience; they show us who we are, deep deep down, and what matters. Life is nothing without them, and it's irritating that you even have to make the case that Art has a duty to explicate such things, but too much of life and the art meant to express it is sugarcoated and spoon-fed; people don't want to seem dreary. Christ forbid you're dreary!
I don't want to make A Monster Calls sound like a slog; it's got several gorgeously animated sequences that look like raining water-colors, and it's got Liam Neeson voicing a strangely well-gluted plant-person (Seriously, check out that tree's butt - somebody spent a lot of time and paid a lot of attention and spent a lot of money towards developing that tree's butt) for god's sake. Lewis MacDougall, all of thirteen years old, gives an incredibly effective performance as a bullied kid with too many ideas whose world is collapsing around him, and Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones gives him great support as the ladies in his life who can't help him until he, cue strings, learns to help himself, and until he learns to confront the great big demons with really impressive butts that are tearing up his insides.