I Kill Giants, Anders Walter’s adaptation of Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s popular graphic novel, is a movie left searching for purpose in a post-A Monster Calls world. Sure, the 2016 J.A. Bayona fantasy drama was a bomb domestically (with a paltry cume of less than four million) but remained a hit overseas and was celebrated by critics and audiences alike who noted the film’s deft ability to tackle large thematic material through the prism of fantastical monsters. I Kill Giants not only involves a young outsider struggling to adapt to real-world issues through metaphorical monsters but does so for precisely the same reason, aiming for a similarly moving but also unwaveringly sullen coming-of-age drama.
The commonalities between the two entities start but don’t end with their protagonists – scared, scarred and lost children. In I Kill Giants, Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) is a self-imposed loner, struggling at school and home, living in a fantasy world where malevolent giants threaten the livelihood of her town. Barbara spends her days setting giant traps or gazing through DIY crystal telescopes, escaping her depressing reality to become an unsung hero of her own accord.
Teased by a tall blonde bully (Rory Jackson) and failing to connect with her family, head up by older sister and impromptu matriarch Karen (Imogen Poots), Barbara finds a pinch of companionship in new girl Sophia (Sydney Wade) while catching the eye of the new school psychologist, the caring Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana). It’s clear that something is very wrong in Barbara’s life but Kelly, who wrote the adaptation, denies us the exact circumstance of Barbara’s pain. Despite these new forces trying to make a positive impact on her life, Barbara lashes out; her prickly resistance to optimistic changes in her life a reflection of her inner torment.
Walter does a fine joy of translating the aesthetic of a graphic novel with many of I Kill Giant’s deep-woods visual tapestry feeling like a smooth transition from the page, although the limited post-production budget does shine through in a reliance on somewhat shady CGI. The problem remains that Walter can’t quite balance the internal fantasy and the grueling real-life drama with the poise and precision of someone like Bayona, who we’ve already seen tell near this exact story and as the movie circles closer to a conclusion, it fails to keep us thoroughly invested in Barbara’s breakdown.
That it pales in comparison to that other effort speaks to Walter’s folly. This almost seems like a movie that should simply have not been made because, for all intents and purposes, we’ve already seen this very uncommon but very specific story before. There’s no denying that both Saldana and Poots are strong as positive forces and that Wolfe is a fine young leading lady but the emotional oomph that I Kill Giant’s wants to summon remains persistently out of reach, much like Barbara.
Without a trove of wowing production elements and little lingering emotional power, I Kill Giants remains a bit of an elegant non-starter. Perhaps Walter’s biggest shortcoming is his inability to pace the thing properly with the movie stretching far past what should have been its expiration without necessarily adding tons of value. Though not a wholly wasted opportunity, I Kill Giants is highly forgettable, if well-meaning and potentially meaningful for teens in trauma, but will remain unlikely to spur much adoration, except among diehards of the source material or other sad LARPers looking to relate.
CONCLUSION: A suspiciously similar cousin to ‘A Monster Calls’, ‘I Kill Giants’ attempts to hem a tragic coming-of-age story into a metaphorical journey of loss that involves a child’s overactive imagination and, yes, actual giants but comes up short selling the emotional goods and lacks post-production value to really draw viewers in. For a movie with a whole hell of a lot of baseball references, ‘I Kill Giants’ feels mostly like a bunt.