Having given us one of the decades finest films in 2012’s The Impossible, it’s no exaggeration claiming J.A. Bayona as one of Hollywood’s most overlooked filmmakers. Bayona returns in 2016 with the late-year release, A Monster Calls, a touching examination the grieving process that’s gone completely unnoticed during the awards season frenzy. But no matter how often and for how long the Globes and Oscars continue to ignore his exceptional work, Bayona continues to represent a unique voice within the industry.
Newcomer Lewis MacDougall stars as Conor, a lonely boy struggling to come to grips with the painful reality of his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. One night at 12:07pm, the imaginative boy is visited by an enormous tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson) who promises to return on three separate occasions to tell him three different stories. These visits and their messages serve as metaphors to Conor’s real-world experiences and help him confront the issues within his own life.
Visually masterful and superbly acted, A Monster Calls stands as another successful dramatic adaption from J.A. Bayona. Youngster Lewis MacDougall does a commendable job of carrying his first feature film, thanks in large part to a wide collection of supporting performances. Yet, it’s the always brilliant Felicity Jones who commands the spotlight with her soulful turn as Conor’s ill-stricken mother. Her omission from the awards season discussion in the Best Supporting Actress race is simply unfathomable, mainly because her quality of work refuses to go unnoticed. Structurally, there are a few contrived subplots sprinkled throughout the story, some of which unfold more effectively than others, but Bayona overcomes these flaws with sensational direction and eye-popping special effects. A Monster Calls isn’t an upper echelon entry like Bayona’s previous masterpiece, yet a clever and emotional finale allow the movie to stand as another formidable effort from an impressive filmmaker.
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