A Monster Calls
Credit: Quim Vives

Constructing the ominous tree creature that helps 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) cope while his mother (Felicity Jones) battles an illness in A Monster Calls was an exercise in patience. Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) and his production designer Eugenio Caballero (Pan’s Labyrinth) filtered through hundreds of designs before returning to the haunting illustrations in Patrick Ness’ 2011 graphic novel, on which the movie is based. Turns out illustrator Jim Kay’s monster designs in the book provided all the inspiration the filmmakers were looking for: a looming yew tree that transforms into a 36-foot-tall giant. “There was some poetry in those illustrations, and we wanted to keep that same feeling,” Bayona says.

The monster can be terrifying or sympathetic depending on Conor’s mood as he also deals with school bullies and an unfeeling grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). “The tree has been always an allegory for spiritual growth,” Bayona says. “The monster represents the man Conor is turning into.”

“The most important thing was for the monster to be old, wise, and filled with great strength,” says Caballero. And who better to embody such an empowering figure than Liam Neeson (Taken), who, through performance-capture technology, fuels the monster’s movement, voice, and facial expressions? “There is something about the monster that has an echo of a man from the Celtic background, and Liam’s voice has the personality that the tree had,” says Bayona.

A Monster Calls opens in theaters on Oct. 21. See a new photo from the film above and concept art for Neeson’s monster below.


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A Monster Calls
  • Movie
  • 108 minutes