As of a few years ago, it was certain that director J.A. Bayona would be a name to remember. With his feature debut in The Impossible, I was blown away and looking forward to anything his mind was ready to dish out next. With his latest venture in A Monster Calls, he has proven himself as a significant staple in modern cinema. This is not only one of the most beautifully told films of 2016, but also one of the most sincere dramas I have witnessed in recent memory. The trailers make it would to be a grand fantasy with a boy and a tree that comes to life, but it really isn't that at all. It definitely has those elements, but the meaning behind them will bring tears to all. I found myself on the verge of tears throughout the entire third act. Here is why A Monster Calls is one of my favourite films of 2016 (if not my absolute favourite).
The Tragically Amazing Story
Trying to cope with his mother's cancer and inevitable death, young Conor seeks out the companionship of a tree that comes to life in his time of need. Telling him stories that relate to his current situation and life in general, his existence is to ease the pain of his dying mother. What the trailers of this film fail to show, is the fact that his existence means much more to the film than meets the eye. I refuse to speak about the specifics of the reason he is around, due to the fact that certain scenes hold a few of the most beautiful cinematic reveals of the year. This film is made out to be a fantasy, but its presentation is a fantastical drama through a child's mind. There are many more layers throughout this film than one might think.
Casting The Proper Talent
Heavy, but not when it comes to casting the right people in a film, it all comes down to whether or not they will be able to carry the film as a whole or deliver in the way that the director is expecting them to. In his very few appearances throughout film, Lewis MacDougall has now fully proven his talents. As young Conor, he was able to portray a character who is both able to fantasize as most kids do, as well as grieve in a very believable manor. His performance made me completely entranced and I was along for the ride the entire duration. A Monster Calls doesn't have a single dull moment. Not only is his performance fantastic for his age, but the cast around him only elevates the rest of the film.
Heavy, But Not Overbearing
Practical vs. aforementioned, this film presents itself as a full on fantasy with a boy and a tree. Yes, there are dramatic elements hinted throughout the trailer, but they are much heavier in the context of the film. Felicity Jones plays Conor's dying mother and for me personally, this is the greatest performance I have ever seen her give. She was able to bring me to tears with her portrayal of a dying mother and I found her final moments the most effective piece of filmmaking that I have seen in all of 2016. For these reasons alone, this already incredibly told story will easily make it to the top of my list for 2016.
Practical V.S. Computer Generated
It's a very rare sight to see a mesh of CGI and practical effects. Normally a film chooses to go with one of the two routes, usually in favour of CGI in recent memory. Director J.A. Bayona chooses to showcase a blend of both and that may just be one of the biggest compliments I can give this film. There are moments of pure cinematic joy when practical effects and miniatures are utilized, but it is never noticeable, making the CGI blend perfectly with the practical effects. It just goes to show that classic filmmaking isn't dead and that new-age filmmaking has come a very long way.
My Overall Thoughts
Some A-List directors like Martin Scorsese are on record in saying that cinema is on the verge of death and that no new filmmakers will ever be able to match what the classics have been able to achieve. Throughout the past few years, I would normally agree with that statement, but the fact that smaller/independent films like this are still made each year, reinvigorate my hope. In the end, A Monster Calls is not just a perfect film in what it sets out to execute, but it's a beautiful depiction of how kids may have to deal with cancer in their family. There are some very heavy themes here that are handled with enormous care. I was in tears from start to finish at how well-made, well-structured, and how it was able to impact me by the end. This is new-age filmmaking at its finest and I would not be surprised if this ends up being my favourite film of 2016 once I have finished catching up. Please, do yourself a favour and check out A Monster Calls.