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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

I Kill Giants movie review: the terrible burden of secret fears

I Kill Giants green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
A movie as thrillingly weird as its protagonist. We are totally enrapt by the wonder and the terror of her imagination, and the power of it to create joy and solace.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about girls and women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

I Kill Giants is not a fantasy movie. It’s a drama about fantasy: about the power of stories to help us understand our fears and cope with our anxieties and escape from our pain, at least for a little while. But in a rare creative conjunction, this movie is as thrillingly weird as its protagonist, 12-year-old Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe: The Conjuring 2, Joy). We have no doubt that there are no actual giants for her to kill, despite all her intense research and preparation for this task, and we know that her small Long Island coastal town is in no danger of being stomped on, as she keeps urgently insisting to the adults and kids around her. But we are as totally enrapt in Barbara’s obsession as she is. As Barbara herself likely understands — she’s far from stupid — we get that, no matter how wonderful and terrible Barbara’s own little world is, it’s all just an invention. But we also simultaneously share her joy in it, and the confidence boost that comes from feeling strong in body, mind, and spirit. Even if it’s just a delusion. (But it’s real. Giants are real. And they are coming. Why won’t anyone listen?)

I wish I had seen a movie like this when I was a kid. I would have clung on to Barbara and her exploits like a life raft.

Few movies about children and the brawn of their imaginations have ever captured this duality so beautifully. Even fewer films have centered a girl and her creative fancies, and her rage and her helplessness. I wish I had seen a movie like this when I was 8 or 9, or even 12. I think I would have clung on to Barbara and her exploits like a life raft.

Because we are so with Barbara and so complicit in her need to escape, we do not understand for a long while precisely what she is trying to deny about the reality of her life. We see that she is bullied at school — by, interestingly, a giant of a fellow student (Rory Jackson), who towers over Barbara — and has no friends because she’s such a weirdo. We know that her home life is a bit of a disaster, with a mean teen brother (Art Parkinson: Kubo and the Two Strings, San Andreas) and an adult sister (Imogen Poots: Frank & Lola, Green Room) who is frazzled between her demanding job and trying to take care of her siblings. We wonder if perhaps their mysteriously absent parents are at the root of Barbara’s pain, but it’s a distant notion.

The proper placement of giant lures is essential if one is to be a successful giant killer.

The proper placement of giant lures is essential if one is to be a successful giant killer.

Instead, we are far more concerned with whether her latest attempt at a potion to lure giants will be successful, whether her bike rides into the woods to test them will result in dangerous encounters with the creatures (or others; there are other monsters to be on the lookout for, too), and whether she will be able to convince new-kid-at-school Sophia (Sydney Wade: Sherlock, Doctor Who) of the truth of the danger from giants. We worry about Barbara’s meetings with the school psychologist, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Live by Night), because while she seems nice, she’s maybe a bit too nice, you know, like she’s only humoring Barbara.

This is an ambitious and accomplished first feature from Danish director Anders Walter — his 2013 “Helium” won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short — and from screenwriter Joe Kelly, working from his acclaimed graphic novel of the same name (with artist J.M. Ken Niimura). It’s an absolute crime that it is not getting a wide release in either the US or the UK: this is a sensitive yet still rollicking adventure, one with beautiful and eerie visuals that deserve to be seen on a big screen. And its smart and complicated portrait of a child’s emotional turmoil is something that could genuinely help lots of kids, and lots of grownups understand kids better by reminding us of how confusing and miserable growing up can be. Barbara is a character who should be iconic, looming large in pop culture, not the niche cult figure she is destined to be.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

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green light 4.5 stars

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I Kill Giants (2018) | directed by Anders Walter
US/Can release: Mar 23 2018 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: Apr 06 2018

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate threat, violence, language, scenes of emotional distress)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Oh man, I thought this was coming out in theaters. Going to put that Amazon prime membership to good use I guess.

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  • Depending on where you are, you might find it in a theater near(ish) to you.

  • Jurgan

    So it’s a story about an adolescent in a difficult environment escaping into a fantasy world? Sounds like a good counterpoint to Ready, Player One.

  • In a broad thematic sense, the two films are similar. This one is infinitely better.

  • Saw this over the weekend. It really is a shame this hasn’t received a US theatrical release. It’s quite a film.

    Lots of online reviews angry about it “not being what was advertised” though. I guess some are reading “From the producers of Harry Potter” and expecting a conventional fantasy movie and it’s anything but. I didn’t expect any literal giant-killing but enjoyed it quite a lot.

  • It did get a theatrical release. An infinitesimally tiny one. Probably to satisfy some contractual obligation.

    “From the producers of Harry Potter”

    That IS a bullshit way to market a film, though. It’s deliberately misleading.

  • Stacy Livitsanis

    Absolutely wonderful film. Deeply affecting and I was a teary mess at the end. I especially loved how much time we are allowed to be with Barbara when she is on her own. This seems to hardly ever happen with girls or women in movies. Suppose there are lots of examples I’m forgetting, but whenever a film spends significant time with a woman or a girl by herself — when she’s NOT about to be murdered — it feels revelatory. After seeing this I went through the too-frequent practice of telling
    people to ignore the dishonest marketing and please see it because it’s
    brilliant. Watched initially through non-legal means, but the second it
    finished I pre-ordered the blu-ray.

  • I especially loved how much time we are allowed to be with Barbara when she is on her own. This seems to hardly ever happen with girls or women in movies.

    You’re right. Great observation.

  • BMore

    I really, really enjoyed watching this movie. At first, I thought it was fantasy. But, as the movie roll along, the story of it as being a fantasy and drama played in my mind. It really make me curious to follow along as what the giants in the title are. In the end, giants are the fears and reality that we are afraid of. I like the way the story goes. It made me cry a little. But, I give this 5 out of 5 stars. I will watch this movie with my kids. It has lessons in it.

  • More like A Monster Calls than anything

  • Sorry to bring up a 4 month old movie but I saw this over the weekend.

    This was strange. One “giant” metaphor. Ha! I’m funny. Not.
    Of course, it was obvious from the start that the whole movie was about
    whatever the girl was dealing with manifesting as these creatures she
    has to defeat.
    We’ve seen far too many movies like this about boys and their problems, so it’s great to see a girl at the center of it all.
    The movie takes way too long to tell us what’s up. And
    never even addresses the father. Where is he? What happened to him? I
    honestly thought the whole thing was about Dad, not Mom, due to the
    whole baseball thing. I still don’t get why a 12 year old(I think? they
    never tell us) would even know who some long ago player named Covaleski
    is. Why would she be listening to old radio shows of ball games? That
    just seems really odd. It fees shoehorned in to work with the overall metaphor.
    Perhaps if the story explained it it would work better.
    The least it could do is tell us the family dynamic early on. The older sister confused me for a while because we weren’t told who she was.
    I understand the girls actions to an extent, but she’s still an asshat at times, and mean to people who genuinely want to help. She needs to do an apology tour
    after the events that go on.
    I don’t buy that her new friend would actually go to the cliche evil bully girl for “help” or whatever.

    Everyone deals with love and loss in their own way, but violence is
    never acceptable. Several kids should be in Juvie jail after this. Or at least in some serious counseling. Or both.

    I know I’m being rather critical of a movie that I still got and somewhat

    A few tweaks could have resulted in a much better film.

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