I have a confession to make. Despite claiming to be a horror fan, I didn’t see The Babadook until about a year after it was first released in the UK. The trailer, which made it out to be a typical bump-in-the-night teen chiller, did not entice me in. In fact, my mother-in-law thrust her Blu-ray of Jennifer Kent’s supernatural thriller on me, deriding it as rubbish and that I was welcome to it. Of course I have since watched it and really enjoyed it, not just for being a spooky story about a haunted family, but for being a psychological drama examining how grief and depression can affect a family unit.
I Kill Giants, adapted for the screen by writer of the original comic book Joe Kelly, deals in a not too dissimilar way with feelings of isolation, distrust, and generally being considered “odd”, albeit in a somewhat fantastical version of reality. Barbara (Madison Wolfe) is a troubled young teenager who retreats into a magical realm to save her small American coastal town from a host of evil man-eating giants, replete with back stories of ancient lore. The loner finds it tough to make friends until a British girl named Sophia (Sydney Wade) suddenly shows up and accepts Barbara for who she is. Tough sessions with the school counsellor (Zoe Saldana) follow confrontations with school bullies, causing further disruption for poor ol’ Barbara.
This fantasy-drama is also the feature-length directorial debut of Anders Walter, whose short film Helium picked up an Academy Award back in 2013. It’s a little rough around the edges with slight pacing issues, but is still a good looking movie and told in an engaging way. I Kill Giants avoids many pitfalls of coming-of-age movies by, well, not having the character come-of-age, but more come-to-terms with life and its many setbacks. Barbara is not a typical snarky teen found moping around a regular woe-is-me feature, but a fully fleshed out character clearly suffering internally and projecting externally in the most unusual of ways.
The world is seen through Barbara’s eyes, leaving everything often grey, murky and dull. Splashes of colour occasionally brighten the picture as the young teen starts to open up, but life soon trips her up again and kicks her in the guts. Each blow is reflected with more drizzle, more storms and less light to reflect exactly how Barbara feels, immersing the viewer further into the universe as Barbara sees it. Despite her defensiveness, she is not a difficult character to feel sympathy for. It’s clear that the turmoil and anguish that Barbara faces is masking a deeper trauma that Wolfe does exceptionally well to portray.
In fact, all of the performances are as equally strong as one another. Zoe Saldana brings a touch of class to proceedings and works well opposite Wolfe. One particular scene between the pair contains the most raw and emotional moment in the entire movie as Barbara breaks down whilst trying to explain the dangers posed by the giants. The relationships all hinge and pivot on small moments that have a big impact. Whether it’s Barbara’s brief exchange with her sister (Imogen Poots) on the steps of the house, or the pulverising she receives at the hands of the class bullies for being weird, each moment further defines how the character’s interactions can be interpreted.
If I had to be critical of one thing, it’s that the humour is noticeable by its absence. For as hard hitting as the drama is, the relentless grim and bleak perspective is wearing. More time spent in the company of the giants or with Barbara’s siblings could have led to more opportunities for the audience to take a breather from the sadness, especially when the ending packs a massive wallop larger than any that the misanthropic giant slayer’s mystical weapon, the Coveleski, could deliver. I Kill Giants is sure to touch the hearts of some viewers whilst its unusual and indie styling is likely to put others off, but is nevertheless a strong adaptation of Joe Kelly and artist J. M. Ken Niimura’s Image comic book worth seeking out when it releases in the UK next month.
Kaleidoscope presents I Kill Giants at cinemas 6th April and digital 4th May. Check out the trailer below and don’t forget to come back and let us know your thoughts once the film is out.