In I Kill Giants, an eccentric girl named Barbara hunts for colossal beasts who threaten to fee-fie-fo-fum all over her hometown. At least, that’s what she believes in her head. In fact, Barbara’s adventures are a security blanket, made to shield herself from a much more grim reality that’s more terrifying than monsters.
Out this weekend in a limited theatrical release and video-on-demand, I Kill Giants turns a psychological phenomenon into an emotional, titan-slaying epic. According to experts, children like Barbara use their imaginations to deal with stress in lieu of logic and experience they find in adulthood. For many young people, getting caught up in a fantasy is the only way they can cope, and eventually confront, a troubling reality.
I Kill Giants stars Madison Wolfe as Barbara, the youngest in a small family that’s just barely holding it together. A storyteller with no one to tell stories to, Barbara routinely escapes her unhappy home life and into a fantasy where she protects everyone from large, destructive humanoids.
The film is an adaptation of a graphic novel from J. M. Ken Nomura and Marvel/DC writer Joe Kelly, who also penned the screenplay. Its story originates from Kelly, who faced questions about life and death at an early age.
Madison Wolfe stars as "Barbara" in 'I Kill Giants.'
“The genesis of the story came from my father,” explains Kelly in a phone interview with Inverse. “My father had gotten diabetes, and it was the first time I had to consider the mortality of my parents.” Years later, Kelly revisited these thoughts when he became a father himself. “I just started processing, looking at my daughter, imagining what it might be like [to leave her].”
Another inspiration came from a childhood memory belonging to a close friend of Kelly’s. “When their father was sick, [they] retreated into a fantasy world that was all about pop stars, and their relationship to pop stars,” he said.
Along with influences like Guillermo del Toro, and the video game Shadow of the Colossus — Kelly says he and Nomura took notes on the game’s monster designs — I Kill Giants is an inspired blend of fantasy with an intimate family drama, whose central characters refuse to acknowledge a harsh fact about their lives. (It’s a spoiler, but trust us, you don’t want to know before seeing it.)
“A giant comes to the place and takes everything from you,” Barbara says in the movie, “and when it’s done, it’s like anything that made your life good was never even there.”
While writing I Kill Giants for Image in 2009, Kelly ran “R&D” with his wife, a school guidance counselor; Mrs. Mollé, played by Zoe Saldana, was modeled after her. “I ran all this stuff by her: ‘Have you met a kid going through this? Would it seem real? How would you deal?’ She was my R&D department for Mrs. Molle/Barbara and helped provide verisimilitude.”
Zoe Saldana plays Barbara's school guidance counselor and the only adult to connect with her, in 'I Kill Giants.'
Though Kelly says he didn’t do any deep dives into child psychology while writing I Kill Giants, Dr. Victoria Kress says there’s truth to Barbara’s fiction. “She has this fantasy to help her organize and makes sense of the experience,” she says analyzing Barbara.
Dr. Kress is a Youngstown State University professor, author, and Director of Advocacy of National Board of Certified Counselors. She hasn’t seen I Kill Giants yet — we talk days before the release — but she tells Inverse she’s “anxious” to after reading the synopsis and watching the trailer. “I don’t know what her trauma is, but I would say that facing a traumatic event and having an active imagination is pretty common.”
I Kill Giants is out now. You can rent it on Amazon Prime right here.
Photos via RJLE Films, RLJE Films
Photos via RJLE Films, RLJE Films
Written by Eric Francisco