Barbara (Madison Wolfe) is a delightfully nuanced young woman who wrestles with a Dungeons & Dragons … that no one else can see. In I Kill Giants, a film adapted by Joe Kelly from his own comic book (co-authored with Ken Niimura), Barbara fights against giants that she alone can see, while tangling with ‘typical’ middle school issues. Thanks to the script and Anders Walter’s direction, it’s hard to tell what’s real, and what’s real in Barbara’s head.
Imogen Poots plays Barbara’s older sister, Karen, who is gamely trying to raise Barbara and her brother, while also holding down a job. We don’t know what’s become of their mother, but it’s clear that the family has undergone some kind of upheaval, and Barbara is convinced there’s more tragedy to come. Two figures show Barbara some sympathy – a counselor (Zoe Saldana) and a new kid (Sydney Wade) – but their influence isn’t enough to offset the regular bullying of the much bigger Taylor (Rory Jackson). Barbara has her hands, and mind, full of issues she can’t quite navigate, and the terror for her builds.
Early on, I found myself recalling the Liam Neeson-helmed A Monster Calls, but Kelly’s script keeps us guessing, holding tight to the edge of our seats. We don’t know if the monsters are real, kind of real, or imaginary; we can quickly see that Taylor is a monster, and that her impact may be truly brutal on Barbara’s life (unless she goes all- Heathers on the gang of misfit bullies). But we care about Barbara, in the way she articulates life and says things about adults and situations that we wish we could, but are somehow too afraid to say.
I Kill Giants is a wonderful fantasy, but not necessarily a lark. It’s fast enough to keep us captivated, spinning us back and forth between the world Barbara sees and the world everyone else sees. Neither one is peaceful or kind, and both have their share of terrors for our young heroine and for us. But she believes, and she copes, and she delivers, pushing us to consider how we deal with our pain, our beliefs, our wisdom, and our secrets. Barbara ultimately shows us how we could be brave, how we might one day look around the battlefield of our lives, and proudly declare, “I kill giants.”