Director J.A. Bayona first became known to most audiences as the director of 2007’s The Orphanage, a Spanish horror film produced by Guillermo del Toro and similar in style to some of del Toro’s own films. Bayone went on to direct 2012’s The Impossible and is slated to direct Jurassic World 2, which will begin filming in February 2017.
Before making the jump to big Hollywood blockbusters with the Jurassic World sequel, however, Bayona directed A Monster Calls, which had been slated to hit theaters on October 21st but has since been moved to Christmas weekend 2016. A Monster Calls is the story of a boy who is trying to cope with his mother’s terminal illness when he befriends a giant tree monster, voiced by Liam Neeson. A trailer for the film dropped back in April and offered a promising peak at the mournful-looking tale, with an additional trailer released in July.
Now the first wave of reviews for A Monster Calls are in from the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, and “mournful-looking” may be an understatement. Reviewers have offered almost universal praise for the movie, but with the caveat that it elicited tears in even the most cynical among them.
Keep reading for excerpts from some of the first reviews of A Monster Calls:
Cinemablend — Sean O’Connell
J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls is a masterpiece. Full stop. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally honest and gut-wrenchingly sad look at coping with death, at maturing in the face of a tragedy, and of the importance of strengthening familial bonds. It’s also one of the most powerful celebrations of the art and importance of storytelling, a medium that tends to lure us into movies like A Monster Calls in the first place.
THR — John DeFore
The film brings some of the creepiness of the Spaniard’s 2007 debut The Orphanage to what might otherwise be mildly sappy family fare. A neither-this-nor-that quality may make this pic tough for marketers, but taken together, Bayona’s three features represent fine qualifications for his gig at the helm of 2018’s unnamed Jurassic World sequel.
Collider — Adam Chitwood
Every screening of A Monster Calls should automatically include a free box of Kleenex when you walk in the door… In this grief drama with a touch of fantasy (think Pan’s Labyrinth), director J.A. Bayona proves wholly adept at crafting a tale of genuine emotion that is packed with imagination and sincerity, offering up a strangely cathartic fairy tale of sorts that never lets the fantasy overwhelm the character drama.
Den of Geek — Edward Douglas
Few filmmakers have mastered the dark fantasy genre as well as Guillermo del Toro did with Pan’s Labyrinth, so to have another movie come along and offer something just as moving and memorable as the pinnacle of said genre is both astonishing and quite wonderful…. Visually compelling and emotionally draining, this dark fable is an unforgettable experience, and Bayona’s talents as a filmmaker are now undeniable.
IndieWire — Eric Kohn
At times, A Monster Calls has a rushed quality, as it goes through the motions of Conor receiving more dour updates about his mother and whining about it to the adults in his life. However, Bayona excels at letting the spectacular moments [rule] the show. As Conor grows closer to confronting his repressed emotions, A Monster Calls develops an eerie layer around the possibility that the boy could face a psychological meltdown.
JoBlo — Chris Bumbray
[J.A. Bayona]’s back with a complex, fantasy-drama that’ll no doubt dazzle receptive audiences with its storytelling and world-building, while also making even the most jaded film fan reach for the hankies, as evidenced by the loud sobs coming from the packed press and industry screening – and bear in mind a crowd doesn’t come much more cynical than that.
Uproxx — Vince Mancini
A Monster Calls is one of those films that’s so poignant, personal, and thoughtfully crafted that you can’t help but praise it, even though you never want to see it again and secretly maybe didn’t even enjoy it that much the first time. Wait, wait, no, where are you going? It’s very good! Beautifully shot, finely acted, written with both passion and nuance! You’ll probably cry!
TheWrap — Steve Pond
Even though the monster gets too talky at other times, and the character design doesn’t quite allow Neeson to come through the way The BFG did for [actor Mark] Rylance, this is filmmaking with heart, flair and imagination… A Monster Calls is a touch of magic in the night.
For fans of Bayona’s previous work as well as that of his friend and mentor Guillermo del Toro, seeing A Monster Calls appears to be a no-brainer. While it is not quite the horror movie that The Orphanage was, it has the level of special effects that one would expect from a del Toro film and an emotional core that appears to have struck a nerve with reviewers. Grief can be a tricky subject to address in a movie aimed toward children, where filmmakers have to successfully straddle the line between being too maudlin and too dark. If the early reviews of A Monster Calls are any indication, though, Bayona has done just that. Just be sure to bring a few tissues along.
A Monster Calls opens in limited release December 23, 2016, before opening across the U.S. on January 6, 2017.
Source: Various (see above)
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