A Monster Calls is probably my top film of this year: beautifully made and heartrendingly emotional. Both the film and the original book were written by Patrick Ness and the film opened in cinemas last week.

The story revolves around Conor, a 13 year old boy trying to cope with his mother’s cancer as she tries one treatment after another. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare where a huge sinkhole opens up and almost swallows both him and his mother if only he holds tightly to her.

Like his artist mother, he loves to draw and paint so the film is a visual feast. One night while drawing, the yew tree in the churchyard outside his bedroom window becomes a monster, an ancient elemental force of nature coming to hold him to account. The monster tells him three stories, told in paintings, in return for a fourth story from Conor himself.

The monster’s stories generally don’t have the ending you would expect, with no comfortable platitudes or simple goodies and baddies to cheer on. Conor finds this frustrating (and he was pretty angry to start with), but like Jesus’ parables, story can wriggle its way into your heart in a way that bald truth finds it hard to do. The problem with grief is that our own stories don’t always end the way we hope, but courage and truth definitely help. Is his grandma really such an ogre, or is she also struggling to cope? Will his mother be healed? Why is he so angry all the time?

It is only at the finale that we discover Conor’s own truth: why his nightmare hurts him so much, and why he can’t bear to talk about it. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it certainly resonated with my own experience and gave me words to express it.

Warning: You will need a whole box of tissues for this film! I would also not recommend it for those who have recently been bereaved, since one of its strengths is the unflinching but poetical way that it draws out what it really feels like to lose someone you love. If that’s you at the moment, send your mates to see it instead…

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