Credit: TIFF
by Luke Gorham Featured Film Horizon Line

The Giant | David Raboy

November 19, 2020

The Giant is a textbook YMMV film: an audacious, elliptical fever dream that boasts a deeply affected style executed with a surprisingly sure hand. 

A dread dark creeps in from the frame’s edges in The Giant, images emerging and receding from the background’s blackness, the negative space both dominant and ominous. Candle flames fail to interrupt the tenebrous compositions (a palette crafted via nighttime shoots with a natural lack of lighting and through underexposing the film). Fireworks throw insinuations of color against teenaged faces and revels, and bodies are under perpetual attack from the sticky Georgia humidity. Ever-present, rolling sweat beads glisten in lighter light. Debut director David Raboy’s visuals both drive and guide The Giant, proving an instructive tonal key and even transmogrifying into a fully-fledged and menacing character. Ostensibly, the film concerns a young girl on the eve of adulthood: traumas large (her mother’s suicide), small (ex-boyfriend troubles), and indeterminate (recent, mysterious deaths) inform an apparent emotional untethering.

But even this description is too simple. Raboy filters an already loose narrative through an avant-garde lens, and his interest remains committed to abstraction. The idyllic, small town southern setting is familiar, as are the rural exercises in binge drinking, nocturnal swims, and Fourth of July merriment. But everything here remains distinctly heightened, the characters speaking mostly in considered poetics and the film’s melancholy so thick as to be nearly breathable. It’s audacious, affected filmmaking, something like a soap opera stripped of all winks and nods and distilled down to only its dark grime, and that lack of subtlety is sure to turn off plenty who stumble into its post-Faulkner milieu — it loosely shares not just the author’s dizzying narrative construction but also the soft supernaturalism and sinister underpinnings of the Southern Gothic tradition. Raboy complicates this ennui with a layering approach, scenes informing and subverting and contradicting each other, establishing a baseline of calm chaos and building a torrential sense of inevitability. Grief, fear, anxiety, and mental illness swirl and interact, and the story — which is both a misleading and reductive term here — finally becomes one about life’s comforts and familiarity co-existing alongside a sense of existential and proximate doom, and the small mythmaking we employ to explain the monsters in our minds. There’s a dreaminess to The Giant that’s not dissimilar to the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, though the Thai filmmaker’s delicate, oblique fluidity is here transformed into more brazen nightmare, or fevered dream,  the effect lending a sense of unsettled temporality and, thus, universality.  The result of this admittedly strange cocktail of mood and influence is an almost avant-garde exercise in gothic menace, the horror inexplicable and inescapable, and here it’s life’s steady progress that fuels all fear.

Originally published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 5.