Interview with Director Hunter Adams

I had a chat with fellow Wisconsin native turned L.A. filmmaker, Hunter Adams, about his new release, Dig Two Graves, which is available to watch on iTunes and at a theatre near you.  His film is a suspenseful thriller that is summed up perfectly by its tagline.  ‘A young girl’s obsession with her brother’s death leads her on a nightmarish journey where she is faced with a deadly proposition to bring him back.’  I was excited to speak to him and could have talked to him all night but administered some self-control and kept it short.  Here is some of that chat:

 

Me: So you’re from Wisconsin, I see.

HA: Wisconsin has a long history of serial killers and great directors. 

 

Me: (I resisted asking him if he were also a serial killer.)  A lot of great actors, as well.

HA: Yeah.  I’ve met a lot of crew out here in L.A. who are Wisconsinites.

 

From my experience, Wisconsin schools always encourage the arts and most Midwesterners are escaping the cold so this makes sense to me.  Moving on, I asked him where his fairly unique and bizarre story came from.

 

HA: It started off as a simple story about a young girl who loses her brother and then makes a deal with the devil, by way of these three hillbillies.  Ultimately, I decided I wanted to give them more of a concrete narrative… to be messing with the girl.  They were originally drawn in the Shakespearean tradition (the witches from MacBeth) where you just weren’t quite sure how much supernatural power they had or if they were just being manipulative.  I kinda wanted to walk that fine line.  But in the final version, we do have an actual reason for messing with the girl.

 

Me: Where did you originally get your love of films?

HA: From my mother.  She’s in my first film, The Hungry Bull.

 

Me: That’s a nice thing to be able to do.  What does she think of this film?

HA: My mom passed away while I was writing the script so she didn’t get to see the final product, unfortunately. 

 

Me: I’m sorry.  She’s with you, though.

HA: She definitely influenced the film.

 

Me: Did you go to film school?

HA: I didn’t really have a film school education per se.  Its been mostly a hodge-podge of classes and self-teaching and just watching as much as I can. 

 

Me: How long does it take to get a film like this made from script to screen?

HA: We started in 2011 and we went through a program called IFP (Independent Feature Project) New York, which is a big non-profit program.  So, we did their– we went to this film week in New York.  We went to a script lab and after that, we made some connections that led us to some investors and we ultimately started shooting in 2013.  It was about a year of editing afterward.  We shot for four weeks in January in the dead of winter and we went back for a few days in the summer for the opening shots of the two kids in the quarry.  And then the underwater sequences, which are at the end, we did that here in L.A. 

Me: You clearly love both writing and directing, is there one you’d prefer over the other if you could choose only one?

HA: Directing.  I like to have the control.  I love being on set and the collaboration, working with actors… the whole process; post production, working with the sound team.  All that stuff.  And I love the technical side as much as I do the artistic side. 

 

Me: Do you have a say in editing your projects?

HA: I edit a lot on my own for a living.  That’s how I pay the bills.  It’s something I’m heavily involved with but I had a good editor who worked with me on this one.

 

Me: I loved the tone, the color, and the overall feel that the landscape gave the film.  Where was this shot?

HA: We shot it in an interesting part of the country called Little Egypt.  It’s in southern Illinois.  Everything there is Egyptian themed.  Down there it isn’t flat and boring, it’s really wild and it has swamps and hills and cliffs and lots of slivers.  It’s a really interesting place; a great backdrop for a supernatural setting.  It’s about six hours south of Chicago.

 

Me: What was the most difficult thing to shoot in this production and what was the easiest?

HA: It’s sort of hard to narrow it down.  There were so many difficult shots.  So much of it was shot at night in very rural locations in the dead of winter and during one of the coldest winter spells on record in Illinois.  That made everything pretty challenging; pretty grueling.  But there were a couple of really technical things that were hard to achieve.  There was a fire scene… and the underwater sequence was really hard both for the actors and for me because as the director, you’re giving over control to the underwater technicians and it’s a really slow process.  That was really frustrating because I like to keep things moving.  So, I have to say the fire and the water.  They were the most technical and the hardest to pull off.  I think the easiest were the scenes between the grandfather and granddaughter.  They had such a natural chemistry together.  There wasn’t really very much I had to do except just get out of their way and let them be great actors together. They’re the real heartbeat of the story.  They’re the real emotional arc and I think that they both did a terrific job.  That makes me look good and makes my job easier. 

 

Me: Are you ever going to direct someone else’s work?

HA: It’s possible if the right script came along.  There’s nothing in the works at the moment.  I have a few projects that I’m developing but those are things that I’ve also written… but I definitely have my eyes and ears open.  If something came along I would not be opposed. 

 

Me: Tell me about your writing process.

HA: To me, because I’m writing, directing and am involved from the conception to completion, the writing process is pretty fluid and doesn’t just start and end on the page.  That’s one part of the process.  I also went down to southern Illinois, spent a couple of months down there… scouting locations and talking to locals and incorporating some of the folklore that I heard, into the screenplay.  Some changes come when you’re on set and you’re with the actors and they’re bringing their instincts in, it continues to change.  Then in post (production) we significantly re-shaped the storyline, as well.  But when I’m specifically writing, I try and set hours, you know?  I’ll get up at three in the morning and try and work; try to be as diligent as possible.  I have to really be regimented or I won’t get anything done.  I consider the writing process to be throughout the entire filmmaking process.  I was making changes right up until the last day of the sound mix; cutting shots out.  It’s an evolution, for sure.

Me: Congrats on doing such an amazing job of casting.

HA: We knew casting the girl was going to be the most important decision we made on the movie because it really rests on her shoulders and if the audience doesn’t take the journey with her than there really is no movie.  So, we spent a long time looking for the right actress to play that part and pretty late in the process we had a tape in the mail from Sammy (Samantha Isler).  She was living in Tulsa OK, had never been in a movie before and when we got the tape I knew, pretty much right away, that she was the one.  She had great instincts, she was smart and understood the subtext… had a real intention behind the words which is pretty rare to see in someone of that age and still have that innocence, you know, that wide-eyed look that we needed.  So, we got pretty lucky that we found her and a lot of the other cast were Chicago-based.  We were trying to cast locally as much as possible because of the budget.  So, we tapped into the local T.V. and theatre scene there and got some great actors and then Ted Levine was on our short list of actors we were looking at.  Short because the actor had to be a pretty specific age because we age him up and down for the two time periods.  And I’ve always loved his work.  He’s played some pretty iconic roles, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs being the most notorious, but I was excited to see him play a meaty role for a change.  We gave him a chance to dig into a morally complex character.  We got lucky with him.  He’s a real method actor; he gets into the part… pretty obsessive about wardrobe and costuming and all that kind of stuff.  It was an honor to work with him.  I can’t even imagine another actor playing that role now. 

 

Me: Tell me about your next project, Blue Palms.

HA: The guy that did the storyboards on Dig Two Graves is a cartoonist friend of mine and we concocted a graphic novel that’s best described as a demented version of Three’s Company.  So, it’s kind of a wacky comedy about these eccentric artists living in a dilapidated apartment in Hollywood.  And we’re getting ready to publish the first volume of that and try to spin that off into an animated comedy series.  It’s very different in tone from Dig Two Graves but sometimes you gotta swing the opposite way and keep in interesting.       

 

Me: Give me some words of wisdom for any budding filmmakers who may be reading this.    

HA: If you want to be a filmmaker, it’s important to watch movies.  To watch a lot of great movies; old movies and really understand the potential of the medium.  I think, a lot of times with a first-time filmmaker, they can be a little bland in a cinematic sense.  Sort of shot after shot of talking heads.  They don’t utilize the full vocabulary of the medium.  When you’re ready to make a movie, my advice is, it’s such a laborious, time-consuming process that you really have to make something that you’re passionate about, not something that you think is going to sell or be popular cuz chances are it’s not going to necessarily make millions of dollars.  You’re going to be spending years of your life on this.  You gotta invest your time in something you really believe in.  And enjoy the process as much as the final product. 

 

Me: How do indie filmmakers get their films seen?

HA: We played the festival circuit and then the last year or two had just been trying to figure out the wild, wild west of independent film distribution.  We finally got that sorted out.  It’s now releasing in theatres and on VOD.  Its been a long journey.  We’re doing an iTunes exclusive for the first four weeks and then it’ll be available on all VOD platforms; Amazon, Playstation… all of them.  That’ll be April 21st.  All VOD platforms.  Just search Dig Two Graves right now on iTunes and it’ll pop up.

 

What are you waiting for?!  You heard the man.  Go check it out and watch this little gem.  If you’re a horror fan and like a good indie film, this is a strong story with great characters that is filmed beautifully be someone who appreciates a good movie and wanted to create something for his audience to remember.  Hunter Adams was a joy to talk to.  I believe he’s a director to watch out for and a name you’ll hear more of in the future.  Start now and don’t miss a thing he does.


Dig Two Graves

The Chinese proverb, ‘When you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,’ is where the title for the film comes from.  I had never heard it before and now don’t think I’ll ever forget it.  Dig Two Graves is set in the 1970’s and partly told in well-established flashbacks.  It’s an award-winning thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of the time.  It was written, produced and directed by Hunter Adams, he wrote it with Jeremy Phillips, stars relative newcomer Samantha Isler, from last years Captain Fantastic, and also stars the fantastic Ted Levine from Silence of the Lambs.  Adams, relatively new himself, only has five directing credits to his name, two of them shorts, so if this film is an indication of what’s to come, I’d have to say it won’t be long before his resume doubles.      

In this creepy mystery, you’ll fear for the life of an innocent young girl who may or may not be so innocent by movies end.  Beautifully shot in a location scouted by the director himself, it takes place in a remote town where siblings, Jake (Isler) and Sean (Ben Schneider) are, essentially, one another’s best friends.  In the beginning of the film, an assumed accident happens and Sean vanishes after jumping off a cliff into a quarry below.  Devastated and feeling somewhat abandoned, Jake, who witnessed the leap, is filled with guilt for having not jumped herself.  Unable to truly move on from his disappearance she retreats from life, eventually believing she’d do anything to get her brother back. 

If someone has passed away it’s a silly notion to think it’s possible to bring them back to life but she meets a man who convinces her it’s not such a crazy idea.  Her anguished young heart comes across the dark and intimidating vagabond, Wyeth (Ruptash), and his two nomadic pals, who have a history with her grandfather, Sheriff Waterhouse.  The sheriff is played devilishly well by Levine who won Best Actor at the Beaufort International Film Festival for his role.  He’s not channeling Buffalo Bill in this tale but his voice is still penetrating nonetheless.  Waterhouse is carrying guilt regarding the former sheriff that’s eating him alive; consuming his spirit.  If you only know Levine from Silence, this is the film to see and watch him spread his wings. 

As if stalking prey, Wyeth pops out of nowhere and zeros in on exactly what Jake needs and promises to deliver if she does something for him.  She must retrieve an item that was taken from him; a medallion.  The medallion summons the power that’s needed to bring her brother back.  Agreeing to help him if he helps her, she is now contractually obligated to oblige and fulfill her end of the bargain, however, as often happens in a deal made with the devil, the medallion is only one part of her obligation.   

I loved the acting in this film and not just by Levine.  Ruptash invokes a Jack the Ripper type feel in his character of Wyeth, as he is so solidly played it was hard to tell if he were human or from the spirit world.  Also, this was a great film for Isler to launch her career and deciding to cast her was a brilliant decision by Adams.  Of choosing her he told me, ‘She had great instincts.  She was smart and understood the subtext… had a real intention behind the words which is pretty rare to see in someone of that age and still have that innocence, you know, that wide-eyed look that we needed.’  So, with this substantial combination of weighty script and successful casting, Adams claimed the Best Director award at the 2015 Beaufort International Film Festival and the Director’s Choice Independent Spirit Award at the Sedona International Film Festival in 2015.  If you didn’t catch the film during its festival run, you can catch it now at a theatre near you and on iTunes. 

Here is the link for you to view it.  https://goo.gl/ONiZ6s

‘We played the festival circuit and then the last year or two has just been trying to figure out the wild wild west of independent film distribution.  We finally go that sorted out.  It’s now releasing in theatres and on VOD.  It’s been a long journey.  We’re doing an iTunes exclusive for the first four weeks and then it’ll be available on all VOD platforms; Amazon, Playstation, VooDoo… all of those.  That’ll be April 21st.  All VOD platforms.  Just search Dig Two Graves on iTunes and it’ll pop up.’  -Hunter Adams

Enjoy the film and if you’d like, please come back and share your thoughts. 

personal-shopper-movie-review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

With the roles she’s choosing, Kristen Steward has been redefining herself, and this part was a wise decision made by both she and director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria.)  Having worked with her in the past he knew that when he needed an actress to pull off the look of someone pained and tormented and to also be engaging that Stewart was the best choice.  She was his supporting character is Clouds but this time she carries the entire film as Maureen.  The film is a bit hard to follow at first but give it time. 

You’re in the hands of a filmmaker who doesn’t want to reveal anything too soon.  Pacing and all things becoming revealed in due time are critically important. 

At first, it’s hard to distinguish what exactly is going on with Maureen.  She’s dark and distant but at the twenty-eight-minute mark, you learn that her twin brother had died of the heart defect they both have.  Not only is she sad, she’s lonely and fears for her own health.  When this comes to light it explains the very beginning of the film where she quietly walks through a dark house looking to make contact with a spirit. 

She’s a young American woman working in Paris as a personal shopper for a celebrity during the day but at night she’s a brooding sister waiting for her brother who, before he passed away, promised he’d make contact with her after his death.  They had a pact that whoever died first, the other would reach out from the other side and give them a sign.  She goes to the house she once shared with her brother and hopes to see a manifestation or feel something encouraging so that maybe she can move on with the rest of her life but it doesn’t happen so fast. 

The audience is on a psychological journey with someone who may very well be better off in treatment but the way the film is rolled out; you don’t pick up on that too soon.  There’s a certain strain put on you to understand Maureen because she seems so fragile but at the same time you’re getting frustrated at some of the decisions she’s making.  Like when she receives text messages from a stranger and she begins to engage.  What so good about this, outside of the overall tone, is it keeps you wondering, is it her brother or is it no one?  Is this happening or is it in her head?  With precision, Assayas does an incredible job of leading you into the trap you don’t see coming.  He uses sound and music as he takes you on this trip where you’re on the edge of your seat for the entire ride, but he doesn’t really end up showing you much of anything.  It’s a refreshing take on the subject and it’s a beautiful piece of art.

Personal Shopper can be creepy at times and those moments are done with a special technique.  She becomes more upset, desperate and even frantic.  The more she does, the more engaged with her character you become.  Maureen, the personal shopper and the girl looking for a spirit, seem to be in two different movies.  Kristen Stewart is so good that these two different entities become one in the end.  She makes what Personal Shopper is, so special.  She keeps you vested with slight changes to her character and Assayas uses everything in his power to keep from exposing the tortured young soul too soon without losing you in the meantime.  Personal Shopper is gripping and intense and a movie I’d have to recommend you see as soon as you can.   

My Cousin Rachel – Trailer

A dark romance, MY COUSIN RACHEL tells the story of a young Englishman who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms.

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, and Pierfrancesco Favino

Directed by: Roger Michell

Connect with MY COUSIN RACHEL Online:
Visit MY COUSIN RACHEL on our WEBSITE: https://www.mycousinrachelmovie.com
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In Theaters June 9th

http://www.fandango.com

Dig Two Graves

Written and directed by: Hunter Adams
Starring: Ted Levine (Shutter Island, Silence of the Lambs)
Samantha Isler (Captain Fantastic, TV’s “Supernatural”)
Danny Goldring (The Dark Knight, The Fugitive)

Ann Sonneville (“Chicago P.D.,”) Troy Ruptash (TV’s “General Hospital,” “Prison Break,”)
After 13-year-old Jacqueline Mather (Samantha Isler) loses her brother in a mysterious drowning accident she is soon visited by 3 moonshiners who offer to bring her brother back to life, but at a grim cost. As the dark history of her grandfather, Sheriff Waterhouse (Ted Levine) is unearthed, the true intentions of the moonshiners come to light.

A supernatural thriller about the generational violence that plagues a small, backwoods town, set in the 1970s, DIG TWO GRAVES asks “how far would you go to save those you love?”
DIG TWO GRAVES is written and directed by Hunter Adams. Produced by PJ Fishwick and Claire Connelly and executive produced by Larry Fessenden. Music by Brian Deming, Ryan Kattner, and Joseph Plummer. Cinematography by Eric Maddison and edited by Scott D. Hanson.
RT: 85min / Not Rated
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2633076/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Website: https://digtwograves.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/digtwograves/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/D2GFilm
Blog: http://unearthing.digtwograves.com/

In Theaters March 24th

http://www.fandango.com

Before I Fall Movie Review

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth).  He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity.  Through the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and futile are therefore described as Sisyphean.  Why is this English lesson pertinent to this review?  It’s not but it’ll help you better understand why it’s used in the movie and will help you grasp the intent behind the yarn.

Before I Fall starts with a voice of a young woman, Sam (Deutch), explaining that, ‘people may have a lifetime of days to waste but…’ and then throws some wisdom out that anyone only truly has today and warns that wasting time isn’t how one should see any moment they’re in.  I try not watching the trailers of, or read too much about, movies before I screen them for review so that I don’t have any preconceived notions of what I’m about to see but it was obvious very quickly that I was in for the teenage dramatic version of Ground Hogs Day with this one.  That being the case and not minding the idea, I got comfy and watched the story unfold.

Alarm clock belonging to Sam goes off and we meet Sam.  Sam loves her friends Lindsay (Sage), Ally (Wu) and Elody (Rahimi).  She is always with them and them her.  They’re rich, spoiled and have no respect for anyone, including one another, but outside of sleeping, they’re pretty inseparable.  Like any group, there is a pecking order and though rather high in position, Sam isn’t at the top.  That honor goes to Lindsay who is anything but a likable person.  She’s mean-spirited, loves to watch people squirm as she puts them in their place and enjoys gossiping behind their backs the moment they turn around.  Unaware it happens to them, the pack ignores yet allows Lindsay to say and do as she pleases, as long as she’s nice to them.  As she does every morning, Lindsay picks Sam and the others up one by one and off to school they go.  However, this day is special; it’s different.  It’s Cupid’s Day and they can’t wait to see who receives the most roses throughout the day as this determines who is the most popular.

They go through their day as they usually do, being petty to parents and being mean to students.  Sam gets an invite to a party being thrown by her old friend, and the films nice guy, Kent (Miller) and the girls decide to attend.  At the party, Sam plans to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Rob.  While there, however, she watches Rob get horribly drunk and act like a fool and decides not to go through with it.  Before leaving, the foursome drinks, do their usual teasing of a favorite victim named Juliet (Kampouris) and get in the car and go home.  An accident occurs and then; cut to alarm clock… and the day starts over.  Knowing the things that had happened throughout the day, you see where this is leading.  Sam isn’t Lindsay.  She isn’t mean at her core.  She’s more of an obliging witness where she may play a hand on occasion but would rather not.  If she isn’t dreaming, can she change things about her life?

The movie continues in this fashion for the rest of it.  Sam learns a little each time she wakes up to the same ugly day that awaits her.  Is she in hell?  Can she do the right thing and be redeemed?  Eventually, you notice one situation that she hasn’t necessarily made a big effort at correcting.  A slight attempt at a stand but not the true attack it needs.  Why?  Could be because she’d see where she was at fault for having created it in the first place.  Well, why is she on this day to begin with?  By the end of the film, she gets it but is it too late?  Are the answers in the actions she herself has made or in those of other people?  Will she now pay a price for not being a virtuous soul?  Will she have to sacrifice something herself to correct the course she’s now on? 

I like that you don’t know these answers and that’s why I enjoyed the movie.  I would hate to categorize it as a chick flick but I think I have to.  The length of time spent with the teenage girls in the car, listening to music, hating on people and talking about boys makes it abundantly clear that the film wasn’t made for adult males.  The audience it was made for, the teenagers will absolutely love it.  Zoey Deutch is a good choice to play the sweet-faced martyr and Halston Sage does a good job of reminding us what we hated about high school more than even the homework.  If you’re a fan of dramas packed with mystery and wouldn’t mind the Mean Girls vibe, check out Before I Fall and look for all of the answers to the questions above.  Is she dead?  You tell me.

Before I Fall movie review by Shari K. Green

A Cure For Wellness Advance Screening

An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps but soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem.

Find your chance to receive special advance movie screening passes below.

Phoenix, Arizona

Date: Wednesday, February 15
Location: Cinemark Mesa
Time: 7:00pm
[button link=”http://www.gofobo.com/CURETMC” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”]Get Passes[/button]

Las Vegas, Nevada

Date: Wednesday, February 15
Location: Century Suncoast
Time: 7:00pm
[button link=”http://www.gofobo.com/CURETMC1″ type=”big” newwindow=”yes”]Get Passes[/button]

It Comes at Night Trailer

UPCOMING HORROR FILM IT COMES AT NIGHT, STARRING JOEL EDGERTON, GETS A TERRIFYING FIRST TRAILER AND POSTER

A24 will release IT COMES AT NIGHT, Trey Edward Shults’ follow-up to the critically acclaimed KRISHA on August 25th.

 

 

Imagine the end of the world— Now imagine something worse.

Award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows his incredible debut feature Krisha with It Comes At Night, a horror film following a man (Joel Edgerton) as he is learns that the evil stalking his family home may be only a prelude to horrors that come from within.

Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous domestic order he has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate young family seeking refuge.

Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within him as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.

http://www.fandango.com

Before I Fall

What if you had only one day to change absolutely everything? Samantha Kingston has everything: the perfect friends, the perfect guy, and a seemingly perfect future. Then, everything changes. After one fateful night, Sam wakes up with no future at all. Trapped reliving the same day over and over, she begins to question just how perfect her life really was. As she begins to untangle the mystery of a life suddenly derailed, she must also unwind the secrets of the people closest to her, and discover the power of a single day to make a difference, not just in her own life, but in the lives of those around her–before she runs out of time for good.

Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Elena Kampouris, Cynthy Wu, Medalion Rahimi, with Diego Boneta and Jennifer Beals

Directed By: Ry Russo-Young

Screenplay By: Maria Maggenti

Based On The Novel By: Lauren Oliver

In Theaters March 3rd

http://www.fandango.com

A Monster Calls

“A Monster Calls” is a heart-wrenching yet artistic view into a 12-year boy and his troubled life. With a slowly dying Mom, a divorced dad who lives far away, and a grandmother with a gruff and unemotional manner, he is dealing with quite a lot. Also, his time in school is marred by a group of bullies who confront him every day. If only he had the size and strength and courage of a Monster…

Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) lives in a small rural town in the English countryside. His life is in turmoil because his Mom, Lizzie (Felicity Jones) is getting worse with a terminal illness. It is difficult at school, because there are boys that bully Conor, mostly because he has a sick mom and he is a good artist. Mom and Dad (Toby Kebbell ) are divorced, and he lives in California. Dad comes to visit, but he again shows that he is not part of Conor’s life.

When Lizzie gets so bad that she needs to be in the hospital, Conor must stay with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). She is strict with Conor, and she cares more about cleanliness and keeping order in her house than she does about Conor. Conor has dreams of being big and strong and getting his way. He wants to set things right, and to get his Mom back. Then one night, something strange happens.

Out on the distant hill, there is an old church and a still older yew tree. The anxiety and pain in Conor’s life is felt by the yew tree. It comes to life, and it comes to visit Conor. The immense humanoid tree seems very scary, yet he speaks with a gentle but authoritative voice. The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) has three stories to tell Conor, and when he is done, Conor must tell him one story.

The stories that the Monster tells are illustrated with a beautiful watercolor animation sequence. The first story is about a magical kingdom that has kings and queens. The second story is about a pastor who shames an old man who sells roots and herbs that can cure people. The third is about an invisible man and a monster that helped him. Conor hears the stories, but they do not work out the way that he thought they would.

Conor hears the stories, but he overreacts. He drives away his father and becomes more distant to his grandmother. He goes overboard and destroys everything precious in his grandmother’s living room. He is overcome with rage and fights back against the bully, but sends him to the hospital. In each of these cases, even when he has done something outrageous and destructive, he does not receive any punishment. Conor is simply dealing with too much stress, they all say.

But nobody knows about the Monster, and nobody knows about the stories. They surely don’t know that Conor now has to tell his story, and Conor is very afraid. The Monster said that he was sent for healing, but Conor’s mom is still in bed at the hospital. Conor is sad, angry and confused. Exactly why did the Monster come to visit with Conor?

The story of “A Monster Calls” is very simple and direct. It focuses on Conor and what he is going through. He feels alone and powerless until the Monster calls upon Conor. But the final story reveals the full sadness in Conor’s life and what he truly wants. He is ashamed to have the Monster know what he feels inside. The dread and sadness of the story are then lifted up by the artistic beauty of the story sequences and the emotional release at the end.

Lewis MacDougall is a major young actor who can handle the tricky role of Conor. He is well cast and performs in a very believable way. Felicity Jones does ok with the Lizzie role. However, not a great deal is asked of her in the role, and she fades out near the end.  Sigourney Weaver does a sturdy job as the grandmother, who at first seems very mean and harsh, but she learns that Conor is more important than just things in the house.

The Monster is voiced by Liam Neeson, who has a very distinct quality of overwhelming scariness in his tone, but has a soft and comforting aspect as well. The Monster design is very well-done CGI. It has the unfortunate tendency of bringing to mind a similar character from the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy”. So the Monster is a huge giant, and he is a big tree. This movie might be called “The BFG 2: The Big Friendly Groot”.