★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Don Quixote meets Jack and the Beanstalk meets Calvin and Hobbes in this poignant gateway dark fantasy film.
Directed by Anders Walters
This is primal little kid scary. OK… by that, I mean that this examines the fears of childhood and how one girl faces these fears. This Belgian/Irish/American collaboration taps into some things that an outfit like Disney or Pixar knows, but is willing to go to a much darker place. Growing up without parents can be a difficult and disturbing thing. It is the stuff that makes up many of the great tales of the hero’s quest. It informs Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Cinderella alike. I Kill Giants puts a decidedly harder edge turn on the story of Barbara (Madison Wolfe), a very nerdy girl, who, being raised by her sister, has isolated herself from almost all social contacts. Her relationship with her brother and caretaker sister is pushed to the breaking point, and she has no friends to speak of… and she has an active belief that she is the defender of her town from evil giants that lurk just outside the vision of most mortals.
Barbara has been staking out her wooded coastal community with giant traps of all sorts and has been working on testing and formulating bait from recipes probably derived from The Dungeon Masters Guide. (Hollah if you know what I’m talking about!) It isn’t particularly clear exactly how insane this little girl might be, but she has gone full Don Quixote, clearly feeling that she is uniquely assigned to be the protector of this Long Island Community. She finds herself her own little Sancho Panza, with the new English Girl in town, Sophia (Sydney Wade… completely adorable), who gamely buys into the bravado and tales of wonder that Barabara spins. This movie isn’t a comedy, but watching Wolfe and Wade play off each other is guaranteed to get you to smile. Barbara is so earnest in her beliefs, and Sophia is so loyal that they are a perfect pair. Barbara needs to have someone believe in her, and Sophia is mesmerized by her strange new friend.
Barbara also fosters a curious fascination with An early 20th Century Philadelphia Phillie Harry Covaleski (notably not Stan Covaleski… also an old major league player) who has a very apropos connection to the plot of this fable. Anders Walters pieces together some of the puzzle that is Barbara’s life… slowly, and each new revelation got my eyebrows raised. A very clever script. I won’t say that I was ever caught by complete surprise, but I enjoyed the pacing of the story. Barbara’s odd antics have drawn the attention of her school’s counselor Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana) who recognizes that this is a child in trouble and attempts to befriend Barbara and get to the bottom of her anti-social behavior, and she gets to ask Barbara all the questions we have about why Barabara is such an odd kid. Add in a bully, and you have the recipe for some prime drama, that unfurls as the giants, and reality, begin to close in on Barabara and the village.
Is this a horror movie though? I don’t think I would go that far. But I think this makes a fantastic gateway scary film for young children. There are definitely giants, and they are rendered quite well, though there is a big titan that looks rather transformer-ish. There are definitely times when you fear for Barbara, as her go-it-alone strategies put her into perilous situations, both real and imagined. She’s got an imagination that runs completely wild, and to me, it reminds me of Calvin, minus Hobbes (Unless Sophia counts as Hobbes). Calvin had an imagination that just flooded out from him, and he really had no idea how to handle other kids or adults, and his imagination transformed into some spectacular situations. The same kind of thing applies here, but with the added concern that you think that Barabara may just do something foolish enough to get herself killed. And… you’re never completely certain that what she’s seeing isn’t real.
They just might be giants. (Cue Birdcage, for those in the know.)
Remember, the first scary stories that get told to young children are fairy tales. And this plays out like a quasi-modern fairy tale, with a touch of Lewis Caroll madness. A brave… probably too brave…young teen facing down some pretty big fears, giants and otherwise. This movie is based on a much loved graphic novel by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura which I must admit not having read. However, the images are gorgeous, and if the storytelling is anything like the movie, I will be picking this up from my local comic book store. There are some of the images which seem were ripped right from the movie screen or vice versa.
I Kill Giants is not rated, but it would probably be PG, maybe PG-13 for intensity. If you have kids who want to see something scary but aren’t ready for a real horror movie, this is a fine starter kit. It is a fine coming of age tale, but be warned, there are some bittersweet moments in it that may take some explaining to younger sensitive kids. If your kids enjoy Harry Potter movies and can handle that level of intensity, they’ll probably really enjoy this.