I Kill Giants
Madison Wolfe, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Zoe Saldana
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A graphic novel that speaks more directly to its demographic than just about any other, Joe Kelly and J.M Ken Niimura’s 2008 tome, I Kill Giants, is also rich and deeply moving proof that comic books can be a lot more than just superhero flights of fancy. The big ideas of the graphic novel are finely distilled in this big screen adaptation from Danish director, Anders Walter, who makes his feature debut after four shorts which tread similar ground in terms of style and theme. He announces himself as a major talent to watch, but the real breakout figure here is young actress, Madison Wolfe (TV’s Zoo), who delivers a performance of supreme confidence and nuance.
Wolfe is the coolly named twelve-year-old Barbara Thorson, an outcast in her small, coastal Long Island hometown (the film was shot in Belgium, giving it a curiously dislocated and otherworldly feel), who meets mocking sneers with a series of pithy put-downs. Fighting with a gaming-obsessed brother, and enjoying only brief moments of tenderness with her older sister and constantly harried principal carer, Karen (Imogen Poots), Barbara also believes that she is the town’s defender against a horde of murderous giants that will soon emerge from the ocean to crush and kill its inhabitants. As her only friend – new-in-town Brit, Sophia (winningly played by the sweet but steely Sydney Wade) – and her concerned school counsellor, Mrs. Molle (the always impressive Zoe Saldana, again proving herself as an MVP when it comes to lending her name to smaller indie projects), try and pull her back from her increasingly all-consuming fantasy world, Barbara continues to wage war on the giants in her head.
Though ingeniously visualising Barbara’s fantasy world courtesy of CGI and animation, I Kill Giants doesn’t indulge in any but-is-it-actually-all-real? style theatrics. The viewer always knows that Barbara’s weapons and elaborately laid giant baits and traps are just products of her fevered imagination, and that cleverly avoids any muddying of what I Kill Giants is all about. This is a film about mental fracture, the effects of familial disintegration, and the quiet horrors of growing up, and it elucidates them beautifully. It’s also (despite its male creators) a wholly female-driven tale, with no meaningful male characters (and not in a negative or pejorative way, mind you) in sight. Thematically echoing the great Pan’s Labyrinth, the profoundly moving I Kill Giants effectively weighs in on issues that matter while boasting fantastical flourishes – and a brilliant leading performance – of the first order.