In the novel, written by Patrick Ness, a young boy must face his fears and come to grips with his ailing mother’s terminal cancer and his own personal struggles with school bullies. Into this already difficult life comes a “monster” (from a yew tree in the boy’s backyard), who visits the boy nightly in his bedroom, telling stories and coaxing the boy to tell a story of his own in return. Over time, the boy comes to realize that the monster is no monster at all, but rather a helpful guide giving him the tools to navigate trying times.
Neeson will bring the tree monster to life, giving it voice and perhaps shape (it remains to be seen how much CGI is utilized in the film; if Bayona stays true to the books various illustrations, than it is safe to say that a fair amount will be utilized), and Felicity Jones is set to play the terminally ill mother. Bayona seems particularly adept at bringing such an emotionally charged and (perhaps) foreboding story to life, having already done so with 2012’s The Impossible (which garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Naomi Watts) and 2007’s atmospheric The Orphanage.
The book itself has won critical acclaim in the UK for both author Patrick Ness and illustrator Jim Kay. It is the only book to have won both the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals for the year’s “best children’s literature” (2012). In the United States the novel has been praised by The New York Times (calling it both a “profoundly sad story” and at the same time “a potent piece of art”), and numerous newspapers added it to their “Year End Best of” lists (e.g., The Independent, The Chicago-Sun Times, and The Wall Street Journal). The book was originally conceived by well-known children’s author Siobhan Dowd, who was herself battling (and eventually succumbed to) cancer. It is dedicated in her honor.
Focus Features will release ‘A Monster Calls’ on October 14, 2016.