THERE are few more bankable ways to make an audience cry than to show a young, innocent child lose someone or something they truly love.
If you have ever been emotionally blindsided by Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia (2007) or J.A. Bayona’s When a Monster Calls (2017) you will know exactly what I am talking about.
Director Anders Walter’s film I Kill Giants follows a similar emotionally-wrenching template to these films, telling the story of a young child named Barbara (Madison Wolfe) as she seeks escapism from one of life’s most cruel hardships.
Barbara is a dirty-nailed adventurer with an imagination as big as the giants she claims to hunt. The youngster occupies herself by concocting ‘bait juice’ and setting traps across her beachside Pennsylvanian town – all in an effort to catch and kill these 30 foot mythical creatures. Of course, such activities leave her ostracised at school and the target of a typically cruel mean girl group.
At home, Barbara spends time in her den plotting her next moves and drawing the creatures she sees. Her moody teenage brother, finding his escapism in noisy video games, is just as unimpressed by Barbara’s self-confessed ‘weird’ hobbies as the school bullies. Barbara’s older sister Karen (Imogen Poots) seems more sympathetic, although in her early 20s she is carrying the weight of the household on her shoulders in the unexplained absence of parental figures.
As well as Karen, there are two other people who seem concerned by Barbara’s direction. The new kid at school, Sophia (Sydney Wade), tries to befriend her, even indulging in Barbara’s pinhead blood rituals.
Both social outcasts, the two share a sweet friendship. Barbara – wearing her bunny ears, big glasses and tatty jean jacket – is a real smart-talker with a feisty retort for almost every interaction. Leeds-born Sophia – in her plaited pigtails and yellow raincoat a little like Coraline from Henry Selick’s 2009 film – nicely plays off Barbara’s quirkiness with her slightly passive nature and bemused reactions.
The affability of both comes down to Wolfe and Wade, two outstanding young actors who are certain for giant futures.
The scenes between Wolfe and Zoe Saldana are equally impressive. Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) plays a cardigan-wearing school psychologist called Mrs Mollé – the third person notably invested in Barbara’s well-being. Mrs Mollé works hard to get to the root of Barbara’s emotional distress but is consistently met by lockdown resistance from the giant hunting high-schooler.
Walter dangles the secret reason for Barbara’s behaviour – and the true meaning of giants – for much of the film. References to an obscure Philly baseball player complicate matters, but any remotely attentive adults will see where this is heading at almost every beat. That is not to take away from a beautifully acted film that hosts four tremendous female performances and is never afraid to deal in rather dark realities.
Even if we know where it is heading, I Kill Giants is definitely a worthwhile watch. Tender cinema that – regardless of any familiarity or predictability – should still leave you reaching for the tissues.
I Kill Giants is out in UK cinemas Friday 6 April