A teenage girl flees from emotional trauma into a world of make-believe peril in I Kill Giants, Anders Walter's adaptation of the comic book by Joe Kelly. Set in a Northeastern coastal community and making good use of local scenery, the picture creates an inviting world while treading much the same ground as last year's England-set TIFF entry A Monster Calls. Though less persuasive than that J.A. Bayona film, this one will find admirers on the fest circuit, resonating especially with fantasy-lovers who felt like outcasts in school.
Madison Wolfe stars as Barbara, a loner who spends most of her time on the beach and in the forest, laying traps for the giants she believes are a constant threat to her town. Offering just enough glimpses of these monsters to keep us wondering if they perhaps are meant to be real, the film is unambiguous about the fact that Barbara is hurting. She and her brother are being raised by her big sister Karen (Imogen Poots), for reasons that aren't immediately explained, and she is all but friendless at school, where the new faculty therapist Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana) is working hard to connect with her.
The arrival of a new neighbor from Leeds, Sophia (Sydney Wade), seems promising. Thanks to Sophia's curiosity and British manners, she's soon drawing Barbara out, learning a bit about her strange rituals and personal mythology. She visits Barbara's fort-like "sanctuary" on the beach, where she learns (in attractively monochrome CG storytelling sequences) about the varieties of oversized villains the teen claims to be fending off.
Unsurprisingly, though, the story's most immediate threat is emotional. A combination of bullying from a girl (Rory Jackson) who may have once been her friend and the continued probing of Mrs. Molle prompts some publicly unhinged behavior on Barbara's part (including moments of violence viewers may not buy), and Sophia starts to wonder if her loyalty is misplaced. Soon, the fantastic world and that of everyday challenges will have to collide.
Though it pays considerable attention to its protagonist, Walter's film (with a script written by Kelly) never fully convinces us of her reality. At times, the movie seems secretly to be about Sophia or Mrs. Molle, working to keep a troubled girl from self-destructing, or about Karen, who is having to juggle domestic obligations with the start of her life and career. All three of them are sympathetic characters, and one can't help wondering if this quartet of young women would come to life more credibly with some female filmmakers behind the scenes. Barbara may have somehow stumbled into a corner of geeky obsession that is usually the territory of adolescent boys, after all; but that doesn't mean men with their own nerdy tendencies can necessarily understand her struggle.
Production companies: Umedia, Adonais Films, XYZ Films
Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Sydney Wade, Imogen Poots, Rory Jackson, Jennifer Ehle
Director: Anders Walter
Screenwriter: Joe Kelly
Producers: Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Kyle Franke, Nick Spicer, Kim Magnusson, Adrian Politowski, Joe Kelly
Executive producers: Mark Radcliffe, Michelle Miller, Justin Nappi, Johanna Hogan, Nadia Khamlichi, Gilles Waterkeyn, James Gibb, Gordon Pugh, Peter Bevan, Martin Metz, Xinyue Sun, Wei Zou
Director of photography: Rasmus Heise
Production designer: Susie Cullen
Costume designer: Charlotte Willems
Editor: Lars Wissing
Composer: Laurent Perez Del Mar
Casting directors: Thyrza Ging, Louise Kiely, Barbara J. McCarthy
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Discovery)
Sales: XYZ Films