(Warning: The following contains some moderate near-SPOILERS for A Monster Calls. And you really wouldn't want to have this movie spoiled for you!)
Last night, Movie Pilot and Focus Features hosted a preview screening of the genuinely lovely A Monster Calls, which managed to captivate the entire audience of families, couples and movie lovers, as we sat and silently bawled our eyes out to a movie that is, to put it mildly: emotionally charged. Here’s the official film description:
A visually spectacular drama from acclaimed director Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Impossible”), based on the award-winning children’s fantasy novel. Twelve-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) attempts to deal with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness and the bullying of his classmates by escaping into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales that explore courage, loss, and faith.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona stands on the cusp of greatness: having fashioned two acclaimed movies in The Orphanage and The Impossible, the Catalan director now offers up A Monster Calls which has already caused a stir on the festival circuit and his next challenge is the second installment in the monstrous rebooted Jurassic World franchise. He certainly has a tough act to follow as last summer's mega blockbuster devoured box office records worldwide, but his work with A Monster Calls suggests he has the chops to succeed.
Following the story of young boy Conor, who is struggling to come to terms with his mother's illness, a fractured home life and bullying at school, A Monster Calls manages to channel those great childhood movies of the past, from Never Ending Story to E.T., while Bayona adds his own distinct narrative and visual flourishes. (The animated sequences are beautiful and flawless!) Channeling an ent-like tree monster (Liam Neeson) who visits him in his dreams, Conor finds solace in his imagination, gaining strength from his companion to fight through the tough times he's suffering at home, battle back against his assailants in the schoolyard and express his inner turmoil, arriving at a finale which might not follow the rules of a classic happy ending, but will leave you with a feeling of warmth and satisfaction long after the credits have rolled.
The powerhouse of a movie Bayona has created left me and many around me wrought with raw emotion: this movie will move you and anyone else who has ever been a child, tapping into those memories and feelings we all share to create a genuine emotional connection between the audience and events on screen.
A Monster Calls dances through a full range of emotions from fear, anger, and pain to hope, joy and happiness. Dipping into such a wide palette of feeling while delivering an imaginative and thought provoking narrative shows Bayona's skill and the fact he delivers a potent, ultimately uplifting experience with such dense subject matter is a (tearful!) pleasure to experience. This movie will make you cry, and you'll feel oh so good about it! I can't remember the last time a movie provided me with such a cathartic release.
Earlier this year Bayona told the Verge that making audiences cry is all about speaking to universal experiences and emotions:
“The idea of storytelling is to transcend, to reveal a truth that feels more real than reality itself. From the moment you start to create a story, that's the goal. The particularity of this film is that it talks about that directly, but all films are about that. ... [T]his is the goal of every story, to make the story appealing and universal in a way everyone can relate to, so by the end of the film, everyone watching is Conor, everyone is a monster, everyone is a mother. I think this is why it's so important to keep a mystery. … What’s the meaning of that scene? There's no specific meaning. Everyone has to put their own meaning into the story. And that's what makes the story eternal. Because it will be different every time you see it. Because there's a question, and it hasn't been answered."
When Movie Pilot recently sat down with Patrick Ness, the film's screenwriter (and author of the novel it's based on), we had to ask him about why he’d write a story so intense that it can make grown adults bawl: “Crying is healing, so you’re welcome,” Ness told us. “I think that good visuals can go right into the middle of your cerebral cortex, it’s gonna hit ya. I think they’re different approaches. A book’s back door approach is to make you think, to make you identify, to stir you up from behind. … A film is more direct, which is why I think you have to be more honest with it.”
So there you have it! A Monster Calls is one of the most emotional experiences you’ll ever have in a theater, and you owe it all to Ness and Bayona. Don’t forget your Kleenex, folks, ’cause you’re about to experience some monster sobs!
Catch A Monster Calls in select theaters 12/23!
What do you reckon, though? Are you excited to bawl your eyes out watching A Monster Calls? Let us know below!