Last year I had the pleasure of watching A Monster Calls, a film about a young boy retreating into fantasy in order to better understand a tragic predicament he was living through. The film struck a resonating chord with me, and I count it as one of the best films I saw last year. This year I had the opportunity to watch I Kill Giants. The two films are similar in a lot of ways and would make a great pairing for a tween double feature. It wouldn’t be a feel-good double feature, but the two films play with similar themes and fantastically fantastical visual special effects.
Both stories involve a young protagonist (this time female) who grows increasingly withdrawn from the rest of the world and both deal with possibly supernatural threats that serve as allegories for personal tragedy and loss. I Kill Giants is definitely a much weaker film, as it has some glaring issues with character, a letdown of a promising action sequence, and a heavy-handed message that slaps its viewers in the face with the obvious.
“Madison Wolfe is gifted at showcasing a wide variety of emotion…”
Directed by Anders Walter and based on a graphic novel by the film’s screenwriter, Joe Kelly, I Kill Giants stars Madison Wolfe as the lead character, Barbara. Barbara is an oddball, and a social pariah at school who is also at odds with her sister and brother. When Barbara meets a new friend, Sophia (played by Sydney Wade), she reveals that she kills Giants, terrible creatures that represent hate and disaster. We see her preparing Giant bait, plotting strategy, hiding warding charms around the school, and she carries a bag that supposedly holds a giant slaying weapon named after a long deceased baseball player. Instead of running off and telling an adult, Sophia goes along with it all as Barbara prepares to deal with an imminent threat looming on the horizon.
Along the way, Barbara has encounters with her school therapist, Mrs. Mollè (played by Zoe Saldana), and a threatening bully. The character of Barbara is very flawed, and not in an interesting way. She is very rude, obnoxiously unhinged, and not likable in the least. There are better ways to show that a character is lonely, troubled, upset, etc. The things Barbara says and does throughout the film made it hard for me to sympathize with her. She came across as just unpleasant, and batshit crazy. It is just too hard to root for Barbara, no matter how much I wanted to. Zoe Saldana plays Mrs. Mollè with warmness to her, and a kind understanding of Barbara’s outbursts and bad behavior, but at a certain point she should have realized there’s something disturbingly wrong with her.
Imogen Poots plays Karen, Barbara’s preoccupied sister and caretaker. There’s a minor subplot about Karen and her work situation that ultimately goes nowhere. I like Imogen Poots, and it’s great to see her in this, but she doesn’t have much going on aside from some nurturing scenes with Barbara. Now even though the character of Barbara doesn’t work, I don’t fault Madison Wolfe. It’s definitely more of a problem with the script than Wolfe’s acting ability. Madison Wolfe is gifted at showcasing a wide variety of emotions, and I’d love to see her in future projects where she plays a less hostile character.
“…not a disaster, but it fails to reach poignancy and pathos.”
There’s build-up to a scene where Barbara confronts her imaginary enemy. That build-up leads to an unsatisfying action sequence, with a burst of dialogue that explains what the movie is trying to say like it’s talking to an audience incapable of paying attention. Despite strong visuals, capable actors, and an interesting premise, this film is ultimately disappointing. It’s not a disaster, but it fails to reach poignancy and pathos. The film looks great, and most of the visuals are stylistic and appealing, particularly the scary Harbinger creatures. There are some funny bits of dialogue, and an emotional moment or two that really cuts to the core, but ultimately its flaws are too glaring and plentiful for it to be a must-see. It’s too dark for young children, and too uneven for adults. I Kill Giants might work great for a target audience of misunderstood tween/teenagers who are looking for something more somber and personal than Harry Potter, but I don’t think it’ll mean much to anyone else.
I Kill Giants (2017) Directed by Anders Walter. Written by Joe Kelly. Starring Madison Wolfe, Sydney Wade, Imogen Poots, Zoe Saldana, Jennifer Ehle, Rory Jackson.
7 out of 10