J.A. Bayona is one of the most exciting directors working today, a bold statement that maybe, but in this review, I’ll tell you why. His knack for creating superbly shot, engaging films like The Orphanage and The Impossible has meant many in Hollywood have been keeping an intrigued eye on him.
His hard work paid off in 2018 when it was announced he would be taking over directorial duties on the Jurassic World sequel, Fallen Kingdom, and despite a less than stellar critical response, no-one could argue that it was the most beautiful film in the Jurassic saga. Before he took on that behemoth of a movie however, Bayona was busy working on A Monster Calls, based on the book of the same name by Patrick Ness. But how does it stack up when compared with the rest of the director’s resume?
12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, a less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and bullying classmates, finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster (Liam Neeson) appears at his bedroom window. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth through three dramatic tales.
Bayona and frequent collaborating cinematographer, Oscar Faura produce a film that reeks of visual prowess with detail dripping from every frame. Each shot is more stunning than the last and the tall tales of which Liam Neeson’s booming voice narrate are beautiful. Bayona and Faura yet again demonstrate their flair for cinematography, but this time that creativeness is set free in Conor’s imagination, where the duo literally paint pictures with superb animations.
Acting-wise, A Monster Calls is sublime. With talent like Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones making up the bulk of the cast, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’d be easy for newcomer Lewis MacDougall to get lost in the fray, but he doesn’t. His performance throughout is exceptional and the chemistry he shares with on-screen mum Felicity is entirely believable, making his plight all the more heartbreaking.
But the real winners here are the special effects. Liam Neeson’s gravelly tone lends itself perfectly to creating ‘the Monster’ in all its woody glory. Think Groot but five times the size. The incredible CGI used to bring mega Groot to life is some of the best I’ve ever seen, all the more remarkable given the film’s relatively modest $43million budget. The effects are better than those in some blockbusters costing three times this.
Then there’s the plot. Essentially a coming of age story as one young man tries desperately to hang on to his youth and escape the tragedies of life; A Monster Calls is one of the most heartfelt and emotionally resonant films in the genre. It is a testament to author and screenwriter Patrick Ness that his novel’s gut-wrenching themes are carried across perfectly to the silver screen; that is by no means an easy thing to accomplish.
Overall, A Monster Calls is a mesmerising 115 minutes that stays with you long after the end credits roll. Everything from the acting to the direction is spot on, with the story being relatable to every single one of us. I remember watching A Monster Calls for the first time and remarking that a year prior, I had been sat in the cinema watching Daddy’s Home; what a difference 12 months makes.