Directed by Anders Walter
Starring Madison Wolfe, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Zoe Saldana

Based on the comic by Joe Kelly and Ken Miimura, I Kill Giants tells the story of Barbara (Madison Wolfe) a young teen who has concocted a rich and detailed fantasy life into which she retreats rather than face the the harsh realities of her existence. In her imagination, Barbara is charged with protecting her sleepy Long Island town from giants – giant, elemental embodiments of destruction and catastrophe that lay waste to all and sundry.

Barbara has concocts an elaborate system of traps and sigils, and has crafted a number of weapons and amulets to help her in her lonely task – outward expressions of her complex inner life. Her obsession with giants has alienated her from her peers at school and her family, including her moody brother and caregiver older sister Karen (Imogen Poots). New girl Sophia (Sydney Ward), a recent British immigrant, is intrigued, however, and finds herself drawn into Barbara’s world.

Okay, we might as well retitle this site Fantasy-Tinged Female Coming of Age Film Weekly at this stage of the game, as that seems to be the bulk of my coverage lately. Following on from Wildling and Blue My Mind, I Kill Giants is yet another movie that refracts adolescent anxieties through the narrative language of fantasy, although in this case the fanciful elements exist as fiction within the framework of the story proper, so perhaps shelve it alongside The Company of Wolves or Celia – or if your memory doesn’t go back that far, A Monster Calls, except A Monster Calls is terrible and I Kill Giants is not. In fact, it’s rather wonderful.

That’s largely down to a nuanced, prickly but sympathetic performance from Wolfe as Barbara. This is a kid who is clearly gifted and possesses an incredible imagination, and who is just as clearly hanging on by her fingernails. She’s a genre geek, obviously – Dungeons & Dragons crops up more than once – but has taken her fannish obsessions to the nth degree, constructing an elaborate imaginary life and purpose rather than deal with the real trauma impacting her.

The film withholds the nature of that trauma, and uncovering it becomes the main focus of both Sophia and school psychologist Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana), who is at the coalface of Barbara’s increasingly erratic acting out. To its credit, the film never treats Barbara’s fantasies as “cute”, for all that she gets around wearing rabbit ears and totes a homemade magical weapon named after an obscure baseball player. Her personal mythology is intricate and layered, kitbashed together from fantasy gaming, Norse mythology, the aforementioned baseball trivia, and more, and the viewer is never in any doubt that it’s all invented, even when we’re treated to seeing depictions of the giants that inhabit it from Barbara’s point of view  (the creature designs and effects are phenomenal). She’s delusional, and the film’s key tension lies in whether or not she’s so far from shore, metaphorically speaking, that she can’t get back.

That level of delusion is extreme, of course, but it’s not too many degrees off what a lot of nerdy kids carry around in their heads all the time If you’re a weird kid with limited social skills, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from parsing intricate fantasy worlds, whether they be an external fandom (Tolkien, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, The Forgotten Realms, etcetera ad infinitum) or self-created. Growing up in the country, a bookish fat kid with few friends, I kept the canon of dozens of fictional worlds indexed in my mind – Middle Earth, the Hyborian Age, the World of Darkness, Shadowrun’s Sixth World, the Cthulhu Mythos, and on and on and on. The appeal of these intricate fictions is that reward deep mastery, especially if they’re gaming worlds. They invite archaeology, and the deeper and more obscure motes of trivia one collects, the “realer” those worlds become. I can still name brands of snack food you could theoretically buy in Shadowrun’s Seattle of 2053, and hanging out there was a hell of a lot more appealing than marking time in the Collie of 1992. I preadate the Harry Potter phenomenon, but when people talk about wondering what happened to their letter from Hogwarts… man, I get it.

Which means that for me, and for a lot of viewers, Barbara isn’t a freak or an oddity – she’s deeply relatable, and the fact that her excursions into her own mythos verge on mental illness makes her even more so, because the escapist appeal of fantasy is a much needed coping tool for countless alienated kids out there.

Kids that I sincerely hope get a chance to see this one, which is getting a small theatrical release in Australia soon. A lot of people are going to be nonplussed by I Kill Giants – it’s such an odd little film, and isn’t really interested in performing for tourists.  But for those who do get it, it’s going to hit like a ton of bricks. If you’re one of them – and you’ll know, let’s face it – get yourself in front of this one as soon as possible. It deserves an audience, and its audience definitely deserve it.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

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