This post is a part of our New Voices Section.
Written by Ashley Davis.
Our story begins with twelve-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is struggling at school with bullies and at home with his mother’s illness. As stated in the film he’s “a boy too old to be a kid; too young to be a man.” Conor gets no respite from reality at night, as he’s haunted by dreams of his mother’s inevitable demise. His mother (Felicity Jones) is adamant that she’s getting better, but it’s clear to see this is not the case. Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) comes to help out, telling the young man that he will have to come live with her. This is where we shift into the fantasy elements of the film. To escape the harsh reality of his world, Conor draws. One such evening, seven minutes after midnight, Conor is approached by the Monster (Liam Neeson). He’s not there to hurt the boy, but to tell him three true stories, and in return Conor must tell the Monster his truth.
This is an absolute masterpiece of cinema. Which again is surprising only because the source material is aimed at a younger audience. Every element works together to bring the fantasy to life. The sound design was brilliant. Whether it was a subtle mark of pencil on paper or the smashing of buildings and windows, every sound added to the atmosphere of the film. This is best showcased with the Monster himself. Whether he was subtly making a fist or rising up to wreak havoc, every move he makes is punctuated by a booming, creaking branch effect. The sound design made an otherwise CGI character really come to life.
Speaking of visuals, they are as equally stunning as the sound design. I can’t remember the last time a film seamlessly incorporated watercolor, 3-D animation, and CGI and did them all equally well. The use of watercolor and 3-D animation to take us from Conor’s reality to the Monster’s story is such a genius stylistic choice. Moreover, the character design on the Monster is truly impressive and feels real. He’s gentle yet menacing, and any comparisons to Groot are a bit unfair. There is nothing innocent about the Monster, he’s a wise old Yew tree who doles out lessons and doesn’t care if he makes a young boy angry.
Overall, the blend of reality and fantasy in this film is pure genius. This is a beautiful story that will wreck you emotionally with its subtle storytelling (despite one of the main characters being a giant tree monster). It’s a fantasy film but its emotional core is grounded in reality.