There’s something of a sub-genre of films which feature protagonists escaping into self-created imaginary worlds in order to deal with real-life issues. It’s a style of storytelling given fairly on-the-nose treatment in films such as Bridge to Terabithia and Richard Donner’s Radio Flyer though the recent (and extremely affecting) A Monster Calls and Terry Gilliam’s masterwork The Fisher King are probably better examples of how far the conceit can be successfully pushed. In the case of I Kill Giants, it’s squarely aimed at a teenage audience and doesn’t seem too concerned with attempting to traverse any high degree of emotional complexity.
The screenplay was written by Joe Kelly (based on his and J.M. Ken Niimura’s graphic novel) and it tells the story of a teenager named Barbara (Madison Wolfe) who lives in a small New England coastal town, in the care of her older sister Karen (Imogen Poots). Barbara lives predominately in her own head and creates elaborate Dungeons & Dragons-inspired mythologies where a variety of giants menace her with threats of impending death and destruction. So, she occupies her days laying traps and magical charms in her role as a self-designated ‘giant killer’.
Barbara’s school life is similarly consumed with mythology-building, in between encounters with school bully Taylor (Rory Jackson) which only serves to make her withdraw further from classmates and from the hand of friendship extended by newly arrived student Sophia (Sydney Wade) who’s similarly an outsider. The school psychologist Mrs Mollè (Zoe Saldana) expresses concern though she finds Barbara’s world-building to be a largely impenetrable bubble. Barbara and Sophia eventually become firm friends though the exact reasons for why Barbara has created (and continually escapes into) this fantasy world is not fully explained until much later in the film. That’s a frustrating script choice because it means that audience patience wears thin with Barbara’s inexplicably withdrawn behaviour, something that prevents the film from shifting into a gear that would reward an older viewer, less interested in the emotional theatrics and searching for meatier metaphors.
That said, it’s a sweetly intentioned film, beautifully shot and with a strong lead performance from Madison Wolfe, so it’s certainly recommended for the angsty teenager in all of us.