Liam Neeson branch out as a tree

Liam Neeson gives voice to a giant walking tree monster in “A Monster Calls,” an emotional and dark fairy tale from Spanish filmmaker Juan Bayona (“The Impossible”).

Adapted by Patrick Ness from his book based on an idea by his late author friend Siobhan Dowd, it’s the story of a young boy named Conor O’Malley, who is having a tough time. Plagued by nightmares, he’s being bullied in school and his mother (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, which forces Conor to move in with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who has very strict rules that just make things tougher for the lad. One night at exactly 12:07 AM, the giant tree that overlooks a distant church cemetery comes to life and offers Conor three stories in exchange for one of his own. Conor is not easily convinced, and understandably has other things on his mind.

If you were disappointed by Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” then “A Monster Calls” covers similar ground in a way far less targeted towards children. It has a similar storybook feel with each of the tree’s fairy tale stories illustrated by gorgeously vivid animation, as they’re told in Neeson’s gruff voice.

Despite the child protagonist and fantasy elements, “A Monster Calls” is a darker fairy tale clearly not meant for kids as much as it is meant to allow adults to experience trauma through a child’s point of view.

Lewis MacDougall is a decent young actor and another great find by Bayona, but if you’re one of those people who can’t sit through movies with a child protagonist front and center, it might be a tough watch. Conor makes for quite an underdog hero, and if you’ve ever had any sort of destructive tendencies, you’ll cheer for this angry young man as he trashes his compulsive grandmother’s prize drawing room. That bully gets what’s coming to him, too.

Even more impressive is Felicity Jones’ performance as Conor’s “Mum” with the make-up department doing a fantastic job making her appear as if she’s literally withering away.

The CG in creating the Neeson-voiced monster is equally impressive, as is the scale of Conor’s recurring nightmare, and each time the walking tree appears in Conor’s life, Bayona finds an interesting way to integrate the live action with CG. (Let’s just say that a certain “Jurassic” franchise is in good hands.)