Believe it or not, but comic books aren’t just about super-powered adenoidal cases who like to punch stuff and flex their muscles, all while wearing their underpants on the outside. With soul-numbing, mega-budget comic book films like ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Deadpool 2’ blasting their way into cinemas this year, it’s easy for audiences to overlook smaller, quieter films based on independently-published comics. Marc Meyers’ excellent ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is one of those. ‘I Kill Giants’ is yet another.
Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe, ‘The Conjuring 2’) is a strong-willed teenager who lives with her brother and her supportive but struggling older sister, Karen (Imogen Poots, ‘Green Room’). Barbara has created a fantasy world inspired by her love of 'Dungeons & Dragons' and the career of former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Harry Coveleski. Believing that giants from other worlds are coming to attack her hometown, she spends her days creating weapons and laying out traps to fend off the creatures.
One day, Barbara meets Sophia (Sydney Wade), who just moved to the area from Leeds, England. Sophia expresses an interest in getting to know Barbara, but Barbara initially remains aloof. Eventually, Barbara explains the mythology behind the giants to Sophia. She shows Sophia the baits and traps she created to foil the giants, and tells her about the magical warhammer, Coveleski, which she keeps in her handbag. She also tells Sophia about Harbingers, ghostly creatures that warn her when there is a nearby giant.
Meanwhile, a kindly school psychologist, Mrs Mollé (Zoe Saldana, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’), attempts to earn Barbara’s trust.
The directorial debut of Anders Walter (an Oscar-winner for his short, ‘Helium’), ‘I Kill Giants’ is many things; an adaptation of Joe Kelly (the first ongoing writer for Marvel's 'Deadpool' comic series) and artist J.M. Ken Niimura's graphic novel of the same name, a tale of fantasy beasts meets real-life monsters, a peek into a child's imagination, and a fearless exploration of painful emotions - the final result is not only starkly magical, but heartfelt.
This isn't Byran Singer's action-packed 'Jack the Giant Slayer' or André Øvredal's 'Trollhunter'. Creatively, it has a few dabs of the magical realism of Peter Jackson’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth’ but bears a stronger resemblance to Spike Jonze’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ and even more to J.A. Bayona’s ‘A Monster Calls’ (based on Patrick Ness’ 2011 novel). ‘I Kill Giants’, based entirely on the 2008 graphic novel by Joe Kelly (who also wrote the script) is a vivid portrayal of a realm of monsters navigated by a highly imaginative girl, as well as an acknowledgement of the power of storytelling. Although shrouded in fantasy, the film always keeps its feet firmly placed on the ground, creating a bridge between the childlike wonder of imagination and deeper, more mature feelings.
‘I Kill Giants’, based entirely on the 2008 graphic novel by Joe Kelly (who also wrote the script) is a vivid portrayal of a realm of monsters navigated by a highly imaginative girl, as well as an acknowledgement of the power of storytelling.
Credit for this can be traced to the strong performance of Madison Wolfe (chosen from among 500 actors by the film's producers) as Barbara – in the world of her imagination, she's a sardonic hero with a trusted weapon (a giant spear-like thing forged from the trees of the forest and the horn of an ancient being) which she uses to hunt and kill giants. Outside of this fantasy, she's an outcast who displays blustery confidence, standing up to adults and brushing past bullies. ‘I Kill Giants’ examines the concept of mortality with boldness, depicting Barbara as an incredibly complex young girl with conflicting moments of fascination and avoidance of death. The result is a difficult, flawed and wholly human protagonist. The other performances from Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots and newcomer Sydney Wade are great too, but ultimately this is Wolfe's film.
Although a magical score from composer Laurent Perez Del Mar, moody cinematography from Rasmus Heise and some sparse (but well-rationed) computer effects help to essay the childlike wonder and imagination of its protagonist, ‘I Kill Giants’ isn’t really a children's film - it’s too emotionally raw. It also plays a little too young as an adult's film, what with the focus on the magical realist fantasy world of the giants. However, it isn’t the giants that are the monsters here. That would be the emotion of grief itself.
If you manage to let this film in past your traps and defences, ‘I Kill Giants’ is unlikely to leave a dry eye in the room.