Based on the graphic novel by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura, “I Kill Giants” is the heartfelt story of a very clever, imaginative young girl who has convinced herself that she must protect her town from killer giants. She uses this fantasy world to avoid coping with a painful family issue that isn’t revealed until the end of the film. I thought I had it figured out early on, but it turned out to be a little different.
Directed by James Wan, the story is set in a picturesque small town, bathed in mysterious blue lighting, that’s near both lush woods and the roaring ocean. A magical aura surrounds Barbara (Madison Wolfe) as she sets her elaborate traps and charms to protect against giants, while her older sister (Imogen Poots) struggles to take care of her and their brother. Wearing rabbit ears to be “in touch with her spirit animal,” she’s a weirdo at school and a target for bullies, but she’s also a fiesty smartass and so convincing in her beliefs that she can actually scare people. Wolfe, who was terrific in “The Conjuring 2,” does a great job of going back and forth between the vulnerable, confused Barbara and the cocky, patronizing one, telling her counselor (Zoe Saldana), “I’m a little mean to dumb people and most people are dumb.” Saldana is good too as the tired but earnest Mrs. Molle, frequently baffled by Barbara’s behavior; her facial expressions alone do a lot for the part.
Barbara almost convinces her brand new – and only – friend Sophia (Sydney Wade), a sweet-natured transplant from England, that giants are real. But cracks start breaking through Barbara’s stubborn magical shield, especially as Mrs. Molle and Sophia start to piece together what she’s really struggling with. Things start to get desperate, in fact, until finally the giants themselves help Barbara come to terms with her trauma.
“I Kill Giants” is full of lovely, subtle effects and has a gently ominous atmosphere, as well as a certain old-fashionedness that I particularly enjoyed. The kids – they’re supposed to be 5th graders in the graphic novel, but look more like 8th graders in the film – don’t have cell phones and mostly wear clothes that aren’t decade specific. It’s not targeted at fans of mainstream teen movies, but fashioned more for daydreaming misfits of any age. In theaters now.