It’s not uncommon for us to use coping mechanisms to deal with the hardships we face in life. Video games, movies, books, TV shows. The list could go on. I myself have used these to deal with my feelings when life has decided to unexpectedly gut punch me. At some point though, we have to come to terms with what’s happening in our lives and face it head on. That’s the underlying mystery at the beating heart of director Anders Walters excellent adaptation, I Kill Giants. Is Barbara escaping to a fantasy world where giants exist to avoid her harsh reality? Or is she really tasked with battling these mythical creatures to protect the town she lives in?
Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel by Joe Kelly & Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants tells the story of Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe), a twelve year old who believes she is the only one that can stop these so called “giants” that plague her existence. Her days are spent checking the various traps she lays out to lure these beasts into the open (giants sure do love gummy bears), drawing and studying them, and reading her Dungeons & Dragons manual. For the most part, she spends her days alone. To exasperate her situation, she’s made a new friend named Sophia (Sydney Wade) which is a big deal for a lone wolf like Barbara, has to deal with the school bully Taylor (Rory Jackson) who torments her, is regularly checking in with her therapist Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana), and to top it all off, she’s currently being raised by her older sister Karen (Imogen Poots).
The film follows the graphic novel almost word for word, panel for panel (Joe Kelly wrote the screenplay for the film as well). There are a few minor details missing from the movie, like the little Pixies who follow Barbara around and talk to her. In the grand scheme of things, if you’re a fan of the novel, these changes you’ll notice won’t impact how you feel about the story. It’s still the same tale that tugged at your heart strings when you read it, just now it has come to life and is playing out in front of you. That’s a testament to first time director Anders Walter. The film could have taken on a more Scott Pilgrim aesthetic, given the way the art from the source material looks, but this adaptation is grounded more in reality. It has its fantastical moments, there’s no denying that. However, that’s not the point. I Kill Giants isn’t so much a story about battling giants, as it is a story about growing up. The giants have their place here, but you’re invested because you love these characters and want to see them through to the end. It’s not just all spectacle. There’s heart.
Despite me literally just saying it’s not all spectacle, I Kill Giants does look great. The special effects are all well done, the giants always looking intimidating and menacing. The creatures you’ll see the most though are the Harbingers (they’re like the Death Eaters from Harry Potter) who are these large hooded figures who just watch and observe the giants while also interacting with Barbara. There’s not a moment where they aren’t creepy whenever they’re on screen.
The cast all do a great job, but Madison Wolfe is a revelation as Barbara. She brings this flawed character from the graphic novel to life. There’s so much anger in this girl, but there’s also a vulnerability that comes to the surface every now and then. She’s weird and quirky. You can’t help but identify with what she’s going through. It’s like the character has jumped from the page to the screen. Zoe Saldana plays a much quieter role than what we’re used to, and I hope that she takes more of these in the future. She really embodies Mrs. Molle and I would love to see her in some more serious films. Imogen Poots as Barbara’s sister Karen is a little more caring then in the book. You can see it on her face when she’s trying to connect with her sister, be it when she’s just trying to understand what Barbara is going through or even offering to play Barbara’s “Dragons” game with her. Having to take on responsibilities as someone her age really shouldn’t have to, she’s dealing with the situation as best she can given the circumstances.
If by chance you’re wondering why I Kill Giants might look and sound familiar, it could be because there was another book adaptation that came out in 2016, A Monster Calls. While they both share similarities; a youth who may or may not be trying to escape from the real world through their imagination, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss one or the other. Why not watch and read both? We’ve seen this kind of story before with Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s fairly common. In this world, I say there’s always room for another tear jerker.
I Kill Giants is a beautiful film. If you haven’t read the graphic novel, I urge you to go and pick it up. The two compliment each other nicely. From its touching characters and story, right up to its emotional finale, I Kill Giants will make you feel. – NVJ
I Kill Giants was provided by RLJE Films for review purposes