I Kill Giants
I Kill Giants 2018
It’s been a long while since I’ve sat down and written a movie review. This past year I’ve tried and gotten through the opening paragraph twice, but haven’t been able to finish one out just yet. But I’m trying to revitalize my interest in this site. Or let me rephrase that, my interest has not gone away for this site, just the ability to give it the time that I want to. But things are starting to change and as I’ve started to prepare for the new year, I’ve been getting a jump start by trying to catch up on what I’ve missed. The first one that I decided to grab was something that I always enjoy doing for this site, a lesser known comic book movie that’s not really about superheroes at all. This is a family fantasy drama adapted from the Image comic by Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura released in 2008 about a young girl who appropriately kills giants. It comes close to being a cliched version of the outcast/weird girl living in her own fantasy world to escape reality, but there’s enough different about this to make it stand out.
One of the great things about this movie is the slow reveal. We get little bits and pieces of the story that build on each other and while much of it can be gleaned on a first time viewing, the slow reveal works well. We don’t even learn the main character Barbara’s name for quite a while. We get to see the struggle of Barbara’s family, her older sister has taken on the role of caregiver to the three kids, but we don’t know why. Even as we begin to realize that something is wrong, Barbara’s mother is sick but Barbara has been blocking it out so strongly that it even mutes the word “mother” when spoken by another character. It’s not until Barbara begins to accept what is going on that we are able to see more of the reality.
But what’s more interesting about this film is the fantasy elements. Barbara is a D&D nerd who loves fantasy stories. She almost constantly wears bunny ear headbands, doesn’t have any friends at school but doesn’t care. She fully embraces her quirkiness as she goes around to various safe spaces where she has created charms, wards, traps, and other things to protect the town from giants and titans. She even carries her weapon of choice in a purse that she has emblazoned with her weapon’s name and symbol. The giants themselves are mentioned, but rarely seen. Throughout the movie Barbara spends most of the time tracking down a single forest giant before the climactic battle with a titan. The forest giant is typically back in shadows or within fog, it isn’t until we see the titan that we get to see a full blown look at the creature and it does look pretty great.
But aside from the fantasy realm, there’s also the real world. Sophia moves in as the new girl and quickly befriends Barbara despite her quirks. There’s also a trio of bullies though the way the bullying is treated is interesting. In the beginning of the movie, Barbara is generally unaffected by the bullying and stands up to them. Not only that, but the main bully suffers legitimate consequences by getting suspended. There’s also a school psychiatrist played by Zoe Saldana, and similar to the earlier slow burn we don’t know exactly why Barbara is being seen by the psych except for the fact that she’s odd and possibly troubled. But as the sessions reveal more about her troubled life, she ends up lashing out. First at Saldana, then at her friend Sophia. We also get to see her moments of withdrawal at home despite her older sister’s attempts at reaching out.
The film has a good mix of alternating between the fantasy and reality elements. There’s always only a slight hint that Barbara’s giant fantasies might be real, especially when it comes to the climax and we hear a radio broadcast that the extreme weather was localized and unheard of in that area when earlier Barbara explains that many natural disasters were actually caused by giants. There’s also a change in Barbara’s appearance and demeanor depending on how fully immersed in her fantasies she is at the time. Mostly realized by her bunny ear headband which is sometimes droopy and sometimes perky, and eventually goes away entirely. We also find out more connections between her sick mother who inspired her giant killing weapon and even the giant killing theme overall.
Another really great thing about this movie that isn’t put front and center is that practically the entire main cast is women. Not only is Barbara and her friend Sophia girls, the bully and her henchmen are girls, the psychiatrist is a woman. In fact, there are really only three significant roles played by men in this movie: the principal, the psych’s husband, and Barbara’s brother and they only get one or two lines a piece. Not only that, but none of the characters feel like they all had to have been women. Most of the characters could have been replaced by a man and it wouldn’t have changed the story whatsoever. It’s incredibly refreshing and all the characters are fully realized. Even the older sister Karen gets a few great little character moments that give her depth.
I Kill Giants is a great little fantasy that gets the balance right between the fantasy and drama. It’s all about Barbara’s journey of acceptance towards her mother’s sickness and eventual death which she does through her fantasy battles against the giants of fear. It mostly foregoes the coming of age story in favor of the struggle of acceptance. The performances are great, the visuals are also well done, and it all combines for an enjoyable film. I’ve heard that there are some extreme similarities to a recent film When a Monster Calls which is unfortunate, though this source material predates the other and there’s plenty of room for more of these types of stories. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.