Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona's first two feature films -- the 2007 horror film The Orphanage and 2012’s The Impossible -- garnered both popular attention and critical acclaim. The Impossible, set in the aftermath of the 2003 Indonesian tsunami, caught the attention of Steven Spielberg; Bayona will direct the next installment of the Jurassic Park series.
But Bayona’s latest film, A Monster Calls, addresses neither horror tropes nor global tragedy. Adapted from a book by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls is about a young boy (Lewis McDougall) forced to face the reality of his mother’s terminal illness, though not without the help of a storytelling monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). Bayona rewires the archetypal coming-of-age tale to create a beautifully rendered meditation on how we cope with grief. We spoke over the phone about his new film, which opens in the Bay Area on Friday, Dec. 23.
How did you settle on A Monster Calls for your next project?
I think it was the emotional impact when I read Patrick Ness’ book and the fact that it was a fantasy. I love fantasy. But somehow the way Patrick talks about fantasy is very interesting because he says that we need fantasy to understand reality. And I think this is what we do -- we try to tell stories, we try to understand reality using fiction.
Also, the fact that he addresses childhood with such a level of respect, and the complexity of being a kid is also there. So to find a fantasy with that level of emotion and complexity of being a kid -- that reminded me of a lot of movies I saw when I was a kid, like E.T. or The NeverEnding Story. I always wanted to be involved in one of those films.