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D: Anders Walter / 106m

Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Art Parkinson, Jennifer Ehle

For Barbara Thorson (Wolfe), the existence of giants is a given, as much a part of the fabric of her daily life as brushing her teeth or riding the bus to school. Barbara is an expert on giants, she knows their origins and their proclivities, but worse still, she’s seen one in the forests outside the town where she lives. Knowing their destructive power, she determines to save the town, and constructs elaborate traps designed to kill the giant. Of course, no one else believes her when she talks about these terrible creatures, not her adult sister, Karen (Poots), or her older brother, Dave (Parkinson). At school she’s treated like the outsider she’s happy to be, and is regularly targeted by the school bully, Taylor (Jackson). The arrival of Sophia (Wade) from England gives her a chance to make both a friend and an ally in her fight against the giants, but with the omens and portents pointing toward a greater threat than even she is prepared for, Barbara’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. Her friendship with Sophia suffers, she rejects the help of the school psychologist, Mrs Mollé (Saldana), and does her best to avoid talking about the reasons why her main weapon against the giants is called Coveleski…

Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, and with a script by Kelly, I Kill Giants is a winning blend of teen drama and fantasy thriller that plays it straight throughout, and when it does add humour, ensures that it’s as mordaunt as possible. Barbara’s world is convincingly structured from the start, and as the movie progresses, Kelly’s script adds the kind of layers that make it difficult for the viewer to dismiss Barbara’s fantasy world as being just that (there are moments when you’ll be sure it’s all in her head, and then moments when you won’t be). The movie provides clues as to the reality of what’s happening, but unless you’ve already read the original graphic novel, it’s unlikely you’ll piece it all together before the end. This means that the tone of the movie is dark overall, with its themes of imminent peril from without (the giants) and from within (Taylor), the fractured dynamic of Barbara’s family, and the cause – if there is one – of her retreat into a fantasy world.

With all these elements in place, you could be forgiven for thinking that I Kill Giants is a dour, depressing movie, but thanks to Kelly’s understanding of the characters and first-timer Walter’s sympathetic approach, not to mention an impressive performance from Wolfe, this is often uplifting stuff when it’s not addressing the serious natures of its various themes. Inevitably, Barbara is the kind of precocious child who can talk to adults on their own level, and leave them dumbfounded (something that only seems to happen in the movies), while her friendship with Sophia goes through the kinds of trials that leaves Sophia feeling less like a fully developed character and more of a deus ex machina. Elsewhere, there’s a striking animated section that depicts the origins and various incarnations of the giants, and several moments where the sound is either distorted or withdrawn in order to show Barbara’s disorientation when faced with certain unpalatable facts. Rasmus Heise’s cinematography, with its largely muted colour scheme, adds to the overall tone, and there’s a fascinating degree of detail in Stijn Guillaume’s set decoration.

Rating: 8/10 – an ambitious Irish/Belgian co-production, I Kill Giants tells its story with a great degree of warmth and affinity for its central character, and in doing so, proves itself to be noticeably sincere; it’s a cleverly assembled movie, forthright and stirring in places, and like all the best stories, it doesn’t give up its secrets until it absolutely has to.