March 20, 2018 I Kill Giants (Movie Review)
Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, I Kill Giants is the story of a young, very troubled teenage girl who creates an elaborate fantasy world in her mind to escape her reality. Directed by Anders Walter (9 Meter 2012, Helium 2014) and starring Madison Wolfe (True Detective 2014, The Conjuring 2016), it deals with difficult subject matter and shows the importance of individual and institutional support when trying to deal with depression, anxiety, and loss. Arriving in theaters and On Demand/Digital HD on Friday, March 23, 2018, thanks to RLJE Films, I Kill Giants has strong performances and manages to be entertaining without trivializing mental health issues, and is a solid adaptation of the award-winning source material.
Barbara Thorson would be weirdo in any American town at any time: awkward and withdrawn, but not without wit and a sharp comeback for those who anger her, pretty much everything about her is strange. She dresses frumpy – complete with a pair on dirty rabbit ears on her head – has almost no social skills to speak of, and spends much of her time in a makeshift hideout on the beach. Barbara’s isolation is even worse in her mind because she is utterly convinced that there are evil giants waiting in the wings for the right time to come and destroy everything she knows. Her main focus in life is to prepare for their arrival and meet her destiny as the town savior.
It is no surprise that her home life is a wreck, with a big sister – played by Imogen Poots (Jane Eyre 2011, Green Room 2015) – who is the breadwinner and mother figure of the family, and a brother who does nothing to help. There is little-to-no connection between the siblings, and Barbara is as withdrawn from them as she is the rest of the world. Unfortunately, she also has no friends whatsoever; at least that is until a British girl named Sophia moves to the area with her family.
After a bit of coaxing from Sophia, the two outsiders become friends and Barbara shares the details of her fantasy life. It is in these scenes where we see just how bad things are for Barbara; when she is the only person on-screen the fantasies seem real, but when Sophia is with her they are clearly deranged and even morbid. Sophia is horrified when Barbara prods the dead body of an animal in the woods with a stick, looking for clues of what she thinks is a giant attack.
At school, Barbara faces bullying but is fearless and doesn’t hesitate to stand up for herself and even seek revenge against her main tormentor, but the constant stress clearly gets to her. A guidance counselor named Mrs. Molle – played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar 2009, Guardians of the Galaxy 2014) – is her lifeline there, and is a very caring, patient character who puts up with more than what most people would trying to make a breakthrough with Barbara. She tries different approaches and is resisted at every turn, but she is never patronizing and never gives up. Like the scenes with Sophia, the seriousness of Barbara’s situation is clear whenever the two are talking in Molle’s office, and we see that this is much more dire than a girl partaking in some harmless escapism. Barbara is smart but has a hair-trigger temper and lashes out explosively when confronted with reality, and is quite possibly on the breaking point of being a danger to herself and others.
Madison Wolfe has a tough part to play here and does very well in the role; Barbara is not a one-dimensional protagonist, but a complex character whose many traits are in a state of constant flux. She is smart, vulnerable, determined, and sad, and it is a real credit to Wolfe’s talent that she portrays her so effectively. Zoe Saldana, who is just excellent in all her roles, is great here too as Mrs. Molle. She is in many ways the real hero of the film because she understands Barbara’s situation and becomes an anchor for her, not just out of duty, but also a sense of personal responsibility. She is the one who steps up and goes the extra mile for Barbara even at her own peril. Mrs. Molle is exactly what Barbara needs – a person who genuinely cares and sees that she has more potential than what the world gives her credit for. Our troubled kids would be a lot better off if people like her were there for them more.
I Kill Giants strikes an unusual balance between Young Adult Fantasy and Psychological Drama. It is mostly successful in the endeavor and treats mental health problems in a refreshing and more constructive way than we often see on film. Good directing and excellent performances from Wolfe and Saldana bring a solid script to life in a very different sort of YA Fantasy film. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives I Kill Giants 4 out of 5 stars.