Late one night, 12-year-old Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougal) is visited by a giant tree-like Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who tells the boy that he will recount three true stories, but after that Conor must tell him a story about the terrible truth that haunts his nightmares. For his part, Conor becomes convinced that the Monster has been summoned to save his mother (Rogue One… star Felicity Jones), who is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness (based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, who was battling terminal cancer at the time), A Monster Calls follows in the footsteps of films like Paperhouse, Grave of the Fireflies and Kubo and the Two Strings in using the venue of a children's movie to explore adult themes. That it doesn't quite reach the same heights as those films is no bad thing; it remains an incredibly effective tear-jerker that refuses to pulls its punches.
In the hands of Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible), A Monster Calls is also strikingly beautiful. Phenomenal visual effects bring the Monster to life, seamlessly integrated into real-world settings, while the watercolour animation used to illustrate his first two stories provide the film with a mesmerising aesthetic and change of pace.
Gorgeous to look at, brilliantly acted and with something meaningful to say for itself, A Monster Calls is a children's film with universal appeal.
Picture: A Monster Calls arrives on Blu-ray with an authentic, if occasionally muted, 2.40:1-framed 1080p encode. While animated interludes (see below) are awash with vibrant colours, the more mundane everyday material veers towards a cooler appearance that favours duller browns and greens.
Detail levels are generally excellent, although a couple of the big visual effects shots look soft by comparison, with delineation and detail taking a slight knock. Still, from a purely technical standpoint, the Blu-ray encode itself is rock solid, with no trace of banding, artefacts or aliasing.
Picture rating: 4.5/5
Audio: The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is an absolute delight. While it's hardly a shock that the Monster's every visit is accompanied by the deep bass of his footsteps, there are smaller touches that really surprise, such as the way the mix cleanly picks out the sound of his individual branches moving against one another. Effects are placed in the soundfield with precision; sequences such as Conor's nightmare (Chapter 15), do a sterling job of grounding the listener is the middle of a maelstrom of individual sonic elements.
Audio rating: 5/5
Extras: The Blu-ray plays home to a chat-track by author and screenwriter Patrick Ness; a five-part EPK-style Making of… documentary (aggregate running time: 21 minutes); a breakdown reel for the two animated sequences showing the progress from storyboard to final footage; and five deleted scenes.
Curiously absent from this UK release is the Spanish-language commentary from director J.A. Bayona that joins the above on Universal's US Blu-ray. Bah.
Extras rating: 2.5/5
We say: This moving movie makes a very strong impression on Blu-ray. It's just a pity the director's commentary has gone missing.
A Monster Calls, Entertainment One, Region B BD, £25
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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