“I find giants. I hunt giants. I *kill* giants.”
The Scoop: 2017, Directed by Anders Walter, written by Joe Kelly (based on his graphic novel) Starring: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana and Imogen Poots
Tagline: A young girl. A terrifying giant. We’re Stronger than we think.
Summary Capsule: A girl battles her internal monsters by battling external monsters
Mike’s rating: Your name is “Thorson” and your war-hammer *isn’t* called Mjolnir?
Mike’s review: Middle schooler Barbara Thorson has problems. No one will play D&D with her, her video-gamer older brothers are loud and obnoxious, her older sister Karen is intrusive, the new girl won’t stop following her around, she’s getting bullied in school and her new guidance counselor is apparently on a mission to “save” her.
How is a girl supposed to defend her town from giants with all these distractions?
Barbara concocts “giant bait” out of moss scraped from logs mixed with glitter and gummi bears. She builds traps for would-be titanic invaders on the shores of her Long Island town. She is never seen without a ratty purse which she maintains carries “Kovalesky”, her enormous war-hammer (which she dares not wield except in the presence of giants, lest she be deemed unworthy of it). She is, she asserts, a “giant killer”; an expert on the subject of giants and how to kill them.
When new girl Sophia, a transplant from the UK, tries to make friends with her, Barbara initially responds with her trademark acerbity. “People close to me get hurt” she responds, with all the gravitas of someone bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders. Meanwhile school counselor Mrs. Mollé is attempting to draw Barbara out, and being met with sarcasm or outright hostility when she starts to touch on the truth behind Barbara’s coping mechanisms.
The movie is experienced entirely through Barbara’s perspective so the goings-on in the background and her peripheral are at first only hinted at. We know her family is suffering, illustrated both through her brothers’ anger and her sister’s exhaustion and increasingly frayed nerves. We understand intrinsically that Karen is holding the family together, a position she neither expected nor wanted, and her little sister’s flights of fancy aren’t helping. Imogen Poots inhabits the role of Karen terrifically, conveying a sense of being in over her head, but also displaying a fierce love and protectiveness of her baby sister in some key tender scenes.
Madison Wolfe is instantly likable as Barbara, one of those “weirdos” in the school halls who defiantly endures the worst the mean girls can pour on and keeps soldiering on; the outcast who inevitably goes on to get their BFA in something really awesome and becomes one of those girls everyone wants to be or be with. She unapologetically claps back against the barbs of people who attack her for being weird, particularly bullying mean girl Taylor (played by Rory Jackson, another find who instills her character not only with anger to spare, but also manages to subtly hint at the fear and insecurity under the “mean girl” façade).
Always sporting a pair of bunny ears, Barbara wears her peculiarity like a badge of honor, but also uses it as a shield against those who would attempt to get too close to her. Sophia (an understated but terrifically wide-eyed Sydney Wade, keep an eye for her in the future) is one of those people, torn between her enchantment at the magical universe she sees through Barbara’s eyes, but concerned at the fact that Barbara doesn’t seem to be aware they aren’t real. Zoe Saldana as Mrs. Calle’ proves she can do quiet drama in an indie flick as effortlessly as she nails high budget CGI-filled blockbusters.
The cinematography of the film is relentlessly beautiful. Scenes outdoors, on the beach and in the woods take on an ethereal quality, and the CGI rendered mythical creatures are both unsettling and cool to watch. Little touches like Barbara’s hideout in the basement of her home or the runes she carves into her various “traps” are a testament to the solid art direction.
Writer Joe Kelly, adapting his own work here, doesn’t leave the audience wondering if Barbara’s fantasies are in fact fantasies or really happening. There won’t be a vindicating scene where all the background characters discover that the giants were real all along. Though we see the Giants, Harbingers, and the final Titan on screen when Barbara does, there’s never any question that it’s all happening in her head and we are meant to be looking through her eyes. Barbara is a troubled young girl, dealing with a painful situation and when we learn the details of that situation late in the film, and we begin to understand how it has shaped her personal mythology, that’s where I Kill Giants gets an extra layer of poignancy.
The movie does suffer from the same fate as Bridge to Terabithia from a few years back, essentially being marketed as a full-on fantasy movie when it’s really a deeply personal character study, more in line with the recent Eighth Grade or My Girl. If you’re coming into this expecting a light-hearted FX-heavy fantasy you’re going to be disappointed, regardless of the “from the producers of Harry Potter” sticker on the cover. The movie it’s being compared to the most in reviews is the similarly themed A Monster Calls. I haven’t seen that movie yet, so I got to come in this fresh, and in that spirit I found I Kill Giants to be a sad, powerful but ultimately uplifting film dealing with themes of loss and acceptance with some nice fantastical visuals thrown in for good measure.
- The train scenes were filmed at the Belgian station of Hombourg, with permission of the starting museum company stationed there.
- Adapted from Image Comics 2008 graphic novel series under the same name, by writer Joe Kelly and artist J. M. Ken Niimura.
- Halle Berry was considered for the part of Mrs. Mollé.
- The runes Barbara leaves behind are characters from the Nordic ‘Younger Futhark’ alphabet.
- This is Zoe Saldana’s third appearance in a comic book adaptation following The Losers (2010) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
- Zoe Saldana’s character is shown married to Doctor Who’s Noel Clark. Both actors were in Star Trek Into Darkness but had no scenes together.
Barbara: A giant comes to a place and takes everything from you, and when it’s done, it’s like anything that made your life good…was never even there.
Barbara: I’m a little mean to people who are dumb—and most people are dumb.
Barbara: There are times when you have to have to ask yourself: Do I want to live my life as a coward, or a warrior?
Titan: All things that live in this world, die. This is why you must find joy in the living, while the time is yours, and not fear the end. To deny this is to deny life.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Bridge to Terabithia
- A Monster Calls
- Eighth Grade