Movie Review: ‘I KILL GIANTS’ balances dark themes and fantastical elements

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

I KILL GIANTS

Not rated, 106 minutes.
Director: Anders Walter
Cast: Madison WolfeZoe Saldana and Imogen Poots

Fantasy, in one of its many definitions, is “an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need…”. Because of this defining trait, many films attempt to translate something psychological through fantasy, while melding with other genres, such as horror or drama. Most of these films revolve around coping with something personal. For example, a widow whose depression takes the form of something sinister (THE BABADOOK) or a son trying to reestablish a connection with his dying father through his life’s tall tales (BIG FISH).

Fantasy plays an even bigger role when trying to translate these emotions to a younger audience. Whether placing these themes in a package wrapped in Pixar, or developing a world seen through the eyes of a young protagonist, the storytelling needs to find a balance between making the fantastic seen first to digest the message later. The scenes will play out visually to keep focus on the screen as the film’s true meaning unfolds through the reality surrounding it.

The latest film to attempt bridging personal themes with imagination is I KILL GIANTS, which is based on Joe Kelly’s (who also penned the screenplay) 2008 limited-run comic book series. It centers on Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe), who is an outsider to say the least. She wears bunny ears all the time, defies everyone with or without reason, and, more importantly, she kills giants, protecting her town from certain destruction. Barbara becomes increasingly isolated within her own home, leaving her sister Karen (Imogen Poots) to struggle between work and playing mother.

Madison Wolfe in “I KILL GIANTS.’ Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment.

As Barbara begins her hunt for the Forest Giant, two people enter her life: one is a new schoolmate named Sophia (Sydney Wade), who she also sees as a compatriot for her mission; the other is a new school psychologist, Ms. Molle (Zoe Saldana), who is determined to get Barbara back to reality. They both care for Barbara in different ways, however the more they learn about her family, questions start to come to light regarding Barbara the Giant Killer. Is she really fighting giants or escaping from a reality she no longer wants to be a part of?

I KILL GIANTS fully wears its heart on its sleeve and it really gives breadth to the surreal moments involving the giants. Directed by Anders Walter, who won a 2013 Oscar for his live-action short HELIUM, it is a labor of love that took almost four years to make. It’s a gorgeous film to watch, using dimmer tints to heighten the gray area that the film lives in. Barbara is the focus of it all, with various close-ups developing an intimacy between the audience and her character, and Madison Wolfe is excellent in everything being Barbara entails.

There are some minor hiccups in a couple of areas that hinder the balance of reality and fantasy. Throughout the film, there is some dialogue that stands out as awkward, as if it was something taken from the source material. However, it could be chalked up to the protagonist’s awkward personality and her need to portray the hero in public. Also, the third act seemed to rush through the pacing established in the previous acts to get to Barbara’s victory/catharsis and it hindered the impact a bit.

Regardless of these flaws, I KILL GIANTS does well to translate the emotional heft of growing up, within the fantasy framework. Minimal visual effects allow for the story to take center stage and focus on Barbara’s reality, while letting the mystery evolve. But it also allows for the VFX to have a greater impact for tension when its needed, such as its final scenes. Life can have giant problems every now and then, and it helps to have others in one’s life to give guidance in defeating them.

Grade: B+

I KILL GIANTS is now playing in select theaters and available on Video-On-Demand.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.