I Kill Giants, 2018.
Directed by Anders Walter.
Starring Madison Wolfe, Sydney Wade, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Noel Clarke, Rory Jackson, Ciara O’Callaghan, and Jennifer Ehle.
Barbara Thorson struggles through life by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters.
I Kill Giants, while a decent debut full-length feature from director Anders Walter (based on Joe Kelly’s graphic novel), is an unfortunate victim of timing as by the time the credits rolled I wish I had just re-watched A Monster Calls (one of the absolute best movies of 2016). Both films deal with the similar subject matter of ostracized middle-school children escaping away from reality into a high fantasy setting in order to cope with the struggles of the real world. Here, we have young Barbara (Madison Wolfe) growing up surrounded by her slightly older brothers who basically sit around playing video games all day and generally not helping with anything around the house, and a much older sister that is the breadwinner of the family (there are no parents in the household, but rest assured this is explained) who, while caring and nurturing, does not exactly have the necessary amount of time (she is actively busting her butt at work in hopes of a promotion) to be there for such a troubled child.
Endlessly bullied by her peers, Barbara takes any opportunity she gets to ditch school to run away from home to play around in the nearby forest (which is also surrounded by a coastal beach) with the intentions of slaying giants. The basic premise (doled out in eye-catching, brightly colored 2-D animation) is that these mythological creatures represent her oppressive, self-confidence hurting peers as beings that exist to wipe out all of the good in the world. Shortly into I Kill Giants, a new student arrives in the small earthly American town all the way from the United Kingdom, naturally friendless but also shy, so it’s not long before Barbara becomes her buddy, but it’s clear the imaginative fantasy games take on the meaning of protecting Sophia (Sydney Wade) from the giants/bullies.
The school system attempts to get through to Barbara’s dangerous magical illusions (this is not a simple case of a teenager playing make-believe, but something far too overactive as the shenanigans increasingly become consuming and a detriment to her mental and social health) by assigning her counseling sessions, and it is these scenes with Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) that make for overcooked but disarmingly powerful moments. There is a fine balance between wanting to support Barbara’s childlike wonder role-playing, and the desire to see sensible minds prevail in convincing her to take the fictional antics down a notch. Admittedly, there could have been better characterization for the top bully Taylor (Rory Jackson), but her nastiness is enough to make us sympathize with Barbara.
Aesthetically, Barbara dresses in a nerdy fashion that is asking for close-minded individuals to mock her; the clothes often have a fantasy appropriate dirty looks to them, she rocks bunny ear reminiscent headwear, and in her free time whips together potions and conducts other experiments in a bunker type area that visually would not look out of place in an Elder Scrolls video game. Even better is that the art style is able to offer up a mix between glorified amateur cosplay and competent CGI (no, the towering giants and titans do not look outstanding or unique but the special-effects work is fine for a budget of this film’s size and wisely shrouded in nighttime darkness to mask some of their lesser accomplished details), all while making good use of the alluring woodland environments.
The problem is that I Kill Giants employs misdirection at a disservice to the overall narrative. There is a twist near the end that explains a great deal of what really has Barbara wanting to flee reality, but it feels more like just that, a twist, rather than a plot point of emotional resonance. Also for whatever reason, the back-and-forth exchanges between Barbara and Mrs. Mollé, along with the quick glimpses of her home life headed up by eldest sister Karen (Imogen Poots), are more engaging than the monster hunting. Watching Barbara set traps and eventually battle one (the end has a fairly exciting showdown) is methodically captured and intriguing, but perhaps not as much it should be considering the metaphors are too on the nose, at least for adults.
However, that brings up a great point; I Kill Giants is a nowadays rare family fantasy adventure that is peppered with adult themes rather than strictly acting as entertainment for kids. Chris Columbus (most known for Home Alone and directing the first two Harry Potter adaptations) is actually credited as a producer, and no thinking is necessary to understand why he was willing to give his seal of approval. This is a gem of a film that will carry substance to nerdy girls that unnecessarily get picked on or anyone that can relate to some of the depressing domestic situations. The recently released botched adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time has nothing on I Kill Giants. Still, give me A Monster Calls over both any day.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com