EXCLUSIVE: Focus Features is moving its J.A. Bayona fantasy drama A Monster Calls out of the crowded October 21-23 weekend and debuting the pic in a top 10-city limited run on December 23 before going wide in 1,500 theaters on January 6. Pic will start off in 20-plus theaters.

The movie, which makes its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, follows a 12-year-old boy (Lewis MacDougall) who in dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness, his less-than sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and bullying classmates, finds a friend in a nocturnal monster, voiced by Liam NeesonA Monster Calls is based on the novel written by Patrick Ness from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. Ness also adapted the feature for the big screen.

The weekend that A Monster Calls leaves behind is a complete nightmare in regards to competition, and the pic’s new date gives it ample time to breathe and spur word-of-mouth during the year-end holidays and into 2017. Sans A Monster Calls, there are five wide entries left on October 21: Paramount’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, 20th Century Fox’s comedy Keeping Up With the Joneses, Universal/Blumhouse’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, Lionsgate’s Boo! A Madea Halloween and Pure Flix’s Columbine tragedy teen drama I’m Not Ashamed. 

The change-up in A Monster Calls release comes in the wake of early positive audience and press reactions, plus there’s an aggressive festival rollout for the movie. On its January date, A Monster Calls will face off against two genre pics: Screen Gems’ Underworld: Blood Wars and Dimension/Blumhouse’s Amityville: The Awakening. After TIFF, A Monster Calls will make stops at the San Sebastian Film Festival on September 21 and the Mill Valley Film Festival on Oct. 10. Participant Media and River Road are producers with Lionsgate handling the pic abroad. The most recent trailer for A Monster Calls is above.