by Hope Madden
Been a while since I’ve been swimming in the dark. Who knows what nasty things are in there?
It may be a line delivered by high school senior Olivia (Madelyn Cline), but it’s a theme writer/director David Raboy knows how to work.
Somewhere in that steamy summer between youth and adulthood, between the loose ends of rural Southern life and the tidiness of college, an ugliness lurks like a trap to keep you. On the same night as that dark swim, when Olivia and Charlotte (Odessa Young, Shirley) jump in alongside a couple of menacingly boyish buddies, a girl is murdered.
Olivia’s feeling nostalgic, maybe panicked that this next chapter will mean a separation from her closest friend. Charlotte’s preoccupation is hazier and more menacing.
The truth is, the time of year and Charlotte’s impending move have her thinking about—dreaming? remembering?—her mother’s suicide. But then, when the girl is murdered, Charlotte’s ex shows up like he’s back from the dead, himself.
And then another girl dies.
Raboy’s indie drama The Giant plays like the fever dream of someone so wedded to a certain kind of pain that they may submit to it rather than move on. The murders on the periphery, the Malick-esque use of voiceover, the hazy close ups and distorted light combine to create a groggy nightmare, both beautiful and frustrating.
The Giant’s beauty lies not only in Raboy’s intriguing framing and pacing—so thick you feel as if you’re hallucinating—but in the lead performances. Young cuts an enigmatic central figure, a tragedy waiting and possibly willing to happen. Meanwhile, Cline’s innocent and earnest turn is like its own light source in the murky Gothic.
But The Giant is frustrating in its vagueness. The dreamlike dread Raboy creates sometimes takes the place of narrative structure, the elements within his script—the serial killings, the suicide, the partying—create creepiness but they don’t serve a concrete narrative purpose. The film serves any number of potential allegorical objectives, but it never actually tells a story.
As weird as it seems, that isn’t enough to sink the film. The nastiness in those murky waters keeps your interest even without it.