What it's about: Barbara is a young woman who escapes her family drama and social status at school into a fantasy world inhabited by great and dangerous giants. She sees herself as a warrior, one of the few that can see these monsters lurking in the shadows, one of the few who can protect this world. When the school psychologist [Zoe Saldana] and the new girl in school show interest in her, Barbara has to decide whether she can open up her fantasy world to them -- or, more dangerously, let them close to her real life.
I've seen a lot of comparisons being made between I Kill Giants and J.A. Bayona's A Monster Calls and those comparisons proved to be pretty apt. The overall narratives are largely the same: a young protagonist dreams of monsters to help contextualize their personal trauma. The differences in how they tell the story [some slight, some substantial] set these films apart. While I wasn't a big fan of A Monster Calls, I do appreciate how its story unfolds more than in I Kill Giants.
Looking at the fantasy worlds side-by-side, I Kill Giants does fine. There definitely seems to be a little less money in the special effects budget in comparison, but they weren't bad enough to pull me out of the movie -- and the film does some interesting practical work with unique creations known as Harbingers.
The real-world explanation for the giants is pretty interesting, too. In I Kill Giants, people mistake these supernatural beings for natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes. By the end of the film, it is a little confusing how much is supposed to be purely metaphor and how much is supposed to be real, but on the surface it works.
This leads to the bigger problem for I Kill Giants and how its approach isn't as compelling as A Monster Calls. The move has a hard time walking the line of believing that the fantasy isn't just a metaphor, that the hero isn't completely projecting. With the introduction of the psychologist and Barbara introducing this world to her new friend, the giants become a literal talking point instead of a private and secret part of a troubled kid's coping with life. This takes away some of the majesty, some of the emotion, and makes their meanings more explicit, clinical. Listening to Barbara talk about what these giants mean just isn't as cinematic or narratively compelling as seeing her simply living in that world instead.
One thing I really appreciated about I Kill Giants is its tone, which wasn't afraid to go pretty dark and scary. It doesn't play down the gravity of what Barbara is going through and her anger and violence feel particularly real. I'm also not used to seeing films about a young girl showing off these characteristics. The introduction to Barbara makes her potentially seem more quirky than where she ends up.
The most impactful relationship in the film is between Barbara and her older sister slash guardian Karen, played by Imogen Poots. Karen wants to understand Barbara and she's willing to be involved in the things she's interested in, but whether it is because of the stresses in her own life or because Barbara never fully opens up to her, she never completely commits to her sister. Poots gives a really nice performance. Without a lot of screen time, she brings across a lot of emotional context.
Mrs. Mollé [Saldana] is a pretty cliched character and one of the film's bigger missteps. She is the well meaning adult figure we usually see in this kind of movie. The breakthrough Barbara has in her office during a standard word association exercise over the word "baseball" is unearned within the story..
Something I want to keep doing for DVD/Blu-ray releases I'm watching is note the trailers that play beforehand. It didn't start well with Odd Thomas and The Cobbler, two pretty awful movies. The third trailer was for something called The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box which looks extraordinarily bad. It was released in 2013 and stars, among others, Michael Sheen and Sam Neill and looks to be a bad attempt to kick off a franchise. It is a little strange that all three of these movies came out years ago.