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Graphic novel based film finds young, eccentric loner Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) believing that she can kill giants and claiming to have done so in the past. Her sister (Imogen Poots) is trying to take care of her and her older brother (Art Parkinson), but Barbara’s constant behavior issues and insubordination at middle school is taking it’s toll. Barbara finally finds a friend in new student Sophia (Sydney Wade), who has just moved to the US from England. The two girls bond and while Barbara slowly let’s Sophia into her complex fantasy world, the psychologist at school, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) tries to find out what Barbara is really trying to escape from in her fantasies. Meanwhile, Barbara prepares, as a new colossal adversary nears, one she might not be able to handle.

Sweet-natured tale is very well directed by Anders Walter from a script by Joe Kelly, based on the graphic novel of the  same name by Kelly and Ken Niimura. This is the kind of movie that could have drowned in over-sentimentality, or sugar-coated the more serious issues, but it is handled with just the right mix by director Walter and Kelly’s script. The film never patronizes Barbara’s living in her own fantasy world, nor does it overplay or exploit the real story of a young girl unable to face a painful reality in her life. We see how involved Barbara’s fantasy world is and also see how it alienates her from her classmates and even makes her the target of the school bully (Rory Jackson). Walters slowly let’s us through the facade, giving us clues as to what is really happening, as Mollé tries to get through to the girl. We are drawn in, as this and Barbara’s friendship with Sophia threatens the walls she’s thrown up. As the story plays out, it is ultimately Barbara herself who must tear down those walls and face her painful reality with the same courage she faces her imaginary giants. It’s all splendidly handled by the first-time feature director and very engaging despite being a very familiar story. On a technical level the film features some nice cinematography by Rasmus Heise of the Belgium and Ireland locations which stand in for the East Coast, United States. The FX portraying our fantasy creatures are very well executed and not over-used and Walter gives the film some nice atmosphere, aided by an effective score by Laurent Perez Del Mar.

The director gets good work from a solid cast. Madison Wolfe is very strong in her portrayal of Barbara. A complex young girl, who is eccentric and imaginative and who creates an alternate reality for herself to hide from pain she can’t handle in her real life. She keeps Barbara likable, even when being difficult and handles the transition from denial, to fear and to finally facing those fears very well. Zoe Saldana is also good in what could be seen as a clichéd role. She gives Mrs. Mollé a sense that she really cares about Barbara and conveys the patience and frustration of trying to reach her. Sydney Wade is sweet as her new friend, Sophia and Imogen Poots is also good as Karen Thorson, a young woman being overwhelmed by what’s going on around her and trying to handle the care of her siblings and maintain a grip on her own life. A strong cast who do good work.

This is not the first film to feature a child hiding from intense emotions in a fantasy world. It’s also not the first film to feature characters trying to reach that child. It does feature a strong debut from a first time director, who mixes all the elements well and in the right amounts. He treats his main character with the respect she deserves, gives her fantasy world the sense of wonder needed, never exploits the more serious story elements, or takes the easy way out by letting this degenerate into a routine tear-jerker…which it is not. A very entertaining and heartfelt movie that deserves more attention than it’s quiet release in limited theaters and on VOD gives it. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) girls who kill giants.






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I’ll start off by saying that I do think James Wan is a good director. But Wan just seems to be making the same haunted house movie over and over again and still makes the mistake of going all theatrical in his second act when subtle was working far spookier. Sequel to Wan’s overrated hit The Conjuring starts out with real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating the famous Amityville haunting. While Lorraine suffers a horrifying vision that makes her question what she’s doing, a single mother (Francis O’Connor) and her kids in Enfield, England start to have things go bump in the night. The church asks the ghost hunting couple to travel to England to establish a validity to the Hodgson family story, while Lorraine is being haunted by a frightening specter of her own.

As with most of Wan’s horror flicks the initial set-up works well and actually has some really spooky sequences. There are some nice scares in the first hour before the Warrens travel to England, with the Enfield haunting escalating and Lorraine seeing a malevolent entity in her own home. We get to know this family very well and do start to endear to them, much like we do Ed and Lorraine. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens’ paranormal escapades, their cinematic counterparts are likable movie characters. Visually the film is well designed, too. Wan has a good eye and choses more muted shades of blue/grey this time, where his Insidious flicks were more colorful and The Conjuring used more faded shades of brown. It suits the building mood, setting and atmosphere well. It also gives the film it’s own look, which is pretty much the only thing new here. The movie starts to run into trouble though, with simply being far too long. At 134 minutes, the flick gets very tedious and it’s middle section drags with only the occasional scare…mostly of the jump variety as Wan seems to rely more on those in the second half than the tension he built in the first half. It kills his chilling momentum as the film’s moderate pace really works against it at this point. For his climax, we again get all theatrical, cliché and over-the-top with thunder and lightening, levitations, yellow contact lenses, growling voices and the now trademarked Wan snarling demon enjoying the effects of their carnage. While we are spared an actual exorcism, we still get pretty much the same end to almost all his supernatural flicks and as with those, he looses his grip with all the mechanically paraded out tropes…twice familiar now for being used repeatedly in Wan’s films, as well as supernatural horrors in general. Like I said in my opening statement, it’s like he’s making the same movie over and over again.

One familiar element that is welcome in Wan’s films is he gets good work from his actors. The cast are really good here and help keep our interest on the story despite being routine. Wilson and Farmiga really have locked in their interpretation of the Warrens and have a good chemistry together. O’Connor is very good as the hysterical mother, though it is young Madison Wolfe who really impresses as 11 year-old Janet. She is the object of the evil presence’s attention and portrays her torment well for a kid. There is a large supporting cast, including Run Lola Run’s Franka Potente, who all do well portraying people from the actual investigation. A nice touch has pictures of the cast in character posted next to the actual individuals during the closing credits.

Much like the familiarity in Wan’s movies, my review’s for them are getting equally familiar. Once again Wan shines in the first half with some legitimate scares and thick spooky atmosphere. He then gives us a bloated middle that plods along, dissipating the atmosphere he built so well early on. He wraps it up with a very theatrical and over-the-top finale, with all the well worn tropes present…yet none of the actual scares he gave us in the more involving and chilling first half. Wan is a good director…but one whose overindulgence and adhering to the same tired formula keeps his flicks from being really special and completely satisfying.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooks

paranormal activity 5 rating