I didn’t know what you expect when I hit play on I Kill Giants. The description had me anticipating something along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; so, I was more than intrigued. It wasn’t Buffy, but it did capture a similar theme of facing your monsters, and conquering them.
The Story Stuff
I Kill Giants employs metaphor and magical realism to emphasize the ugliness of losing your power and doing everything you can to reclaim it.
Despite the elements of fantasy, horror, and suspense, I would consider this to be a story that centres on character development. We stay in the POV of Barbara (Madison Walfe), which means we are only allowed small glances of what is happening around her. This works really well because we get the sense from how people treat her that there may be some sort of trauma in her past, but (whether or not it’s real) she remains convincing when she states that she in fact kills Giants, who are out to destroy her town, and the whole world. Better yet, as she embarks on her journey, she experiences notable growth.
The Active Female
Barbara is the hero of her own story, and she she refuses to let anyone get in her way. She has a mission, and she is determined to fulfill it, at any and all costs.
Much of the classic feminist film theory calls out the distinction between the film roles of the Active Male and the Passive Female, unimpressed by the divisive nature that is then replicated within the viewership. The argument here is that female viewers often have only passive characters to relate to, thus perpetuating submissive social roles.
Barbara is hardly the only good example of this archetype being flipped, but she does stand out. She is smart, she knows what she wants, and she refuses to be belittled (to a fault, as she often does the belittling). Moreover, the film is almost entirely populated with girls and women, all of whom have clear and strong goals.
Character Strengths and Weaknesses
Barbara is a fully realized character, which means she has strengths and weaknesses. This is probably best encapsulated by an exchange that takes place between her and the new school psychiatrist. As Barbara rises to walk out on Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana), who is clearly making a very big attempt to reach out to her, she stops to say:
For the record, I’m not being difficult because I think your profession is BS. I’m just busy, so I don’t have time to be delicate with your feelings.
Here, we see the best and the worst of Barbara. She’s caring and protective, especially of the people in her life who she does (or could) care about. We see this again later when she insists on performing a protection ritual on Sophia (Sydney Wade), even if it makes her new friend think she’s crazy. But, she also isolates people. When she’s asked why she thinks she doesn’t have many friends, she admits: “I’m a little mean to people who are dumb.” This level of self-awareness makes Barbara incredibly likeable, even when she’s being mean.
Narrative Arc and Character Growth
But, of course, there’s a reason why Barbara is guarded, defensive, angry and spiralling into what may be a very scary fantasy world. She refuses to talk about her home situation, which is slowly revealed, mainly through tidbits of conversations we see her older sister engaging in. Karen (Imogen Poots) is a young woman who is obviously at the end of her wits as she struggles to keep her siblings fed and sheltered, all while working to further her own career.
Through a couple of new, beautiful relationships with Sophia and Mrs. Molle, Barbara is forced to face her biggest fear; and it’s bigger than Giants. It’s real life. A hard and sad, real life. But with the right support, Barbara overcomes her emotional turmoil and gives herself permission to move forward. It’s a powerful lesson, especially for young girls.
The Film Stuff
I Kill Giants is a beautifully shot film. It’s all very grey, which helps to set the bleak tone and emphasizes the chilly east coast setting. We also get plenty of close-ups of beaches and cliffs. It’s easy to get swept up in it.
The pace is significant because it jerks us around a bit, revealing only a little bit of Barbara’s reality at a time. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what was happening with her and if I’d ever find out. It certainly kept my attention. By the time we start to understand the context of the story, there’s been just the right amount of emotional build-up.
I think this is an important film. It does something similar to A Monster Calls, but goes much further by emphasizing the significance of strong relationships with friends, family and other role models. Not to mention, Barbara is kind of a bad ass.
I give this film 5/5