The Girl With All The Gifts (Movie) Review
Genre: Action, Horror, Thriller
Not so much?
By no means perfect, but this is something different, enjoyable, interesting, and at times utterly enthralling. Well worth a watch if you’re a fan of the genre.
Lord Of The Flies meets World War Z in this unique contribution to the zombie-horror genre. M.R. Carey’s screenplay, based on his own novel of the same name, is adapted here by television stalwart Colm McCarthy and stars Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and newcomer Sennia Nanua.
The premise of the story is a fascinating one when considering the scores of movies within this genre that have been released since George A Romero fashioned the trend in the late 60s, in that it focuses on the children affected by the root cause of the epidemic. It’s a theme that unfolds in small doses during the film but remains prominent throughout, thanks largely to the wonderful performance from Nanua as Melanie, the titular ‘Girl With All The Gifts’. It is also a concept that combines effortlessly with one that Romero has already introduced us to in the past; that of the ‘thinking zombie’ and the terrifying idea of what would happen if they had the ability to learn.
Indeed, this is where we start: accompanied by Melanie’s eerie, breathless counting and a chilling, intense and claustrophobic score that rises to a shattering crescendo, The Girl With All The Gifts opens with Melanie readying herself in a wheel chair, awaiting for what appears to be her prison cell door to open, and for armed guards to strap her into the chair. She is then wheeled down corridors in which some evidently military personnel dive out of her way, and she is placed in a room with dozens of other children strapped into chairs just like hers. A stern, aggressive woman walks to the front of the room, faces the children, and begins testing them on the Periodic Table. This is a classroom, yet these children are feared.
This fear seems almost unconscionable as we get to know Melanie, though. She is calm, polite, well mannered and well spoken. Clearly intelligent, and clearly in touch with her emotions as her fondness and infatuation for her favourite teacher; Arterton’s Helen; becomes quickly apparent. Melanie appears to be the perfect, model student. Melanie, however, is a zombie.
This is all established very early into the film, and at this same stage we get a precise overview of who’s who; from Considine’s hardened and tough soldier to Arterton’s soft and compassionate teacher, as well as Close’s determined, emotionally-void scientist obsessed with finding a vaccine to solve the epidemic. Along with Melanie and a couple of soldiers, it is this group we follow once their base is over-run and attacked in a superb sequence of sweeping, tracking shots which immerse the audience into frightened chaos. From the opening scene to this, the first third of The Girl With All The Gifts is an intensely dark and gripping introduction that stuns the audience with its frantic action and pace which is epitomised by the speed, ferocity and violence of McCarthy’s zombies.
The middle third is considerably slower than the first, as Considine leads his bickering companions on a quest to find refuge. It’s a period of the film that allows us to get to know the characters better; certainly Considine’s and Close’s; but Melanie in particular. For the first time, she is out in the wilderness and away from everything and almost everyone she knows. She sets about exploring the outside world, and more importantly, herself, and in doing so both her primal and her nurtured instincts come to the fore, ultimately leading to the key question of the story; is she human or not? It is this dilemma which puts Arterton’s Helen and Close’s Dr Caldwell at odds, and tests Considine’s Sgt Park’s resolve.
We do learn much more of the characters during this period, and this is presumably McCarthy’s intention, in which case the stark reduction in pace and the drop-off in tension and suspense is certainly understandable even though it doesn’t necessarily feel progressive or natural. One nerve-wrecking scene certainly stands out, though; just as the frenetic pace of the zombies mirrored that of the action in the opening scenes, here we see the group carefully, slowly, nervously walking amongst still, sleeping hoards of zombies. This mirroring is an incredibly efficient technique and saves this middle section of the film from becoming too bogged down in narrative and completely destroying the momentum set earlier; something which it certainly felt dangerously close to doing.
The action picks up somewhat as we come to the final third, where the theme of the affected (and infected) children becomes extremely prominent once again. It’s from here the Lord Of The Flies comparison comes as we metaphorically go full circle back to the ideas set out at the beginning of the story. This in itself is a satisfying journey, but unfortunately the momentum leading up to the finale also feels shaky. In fact, the depiction of the events which serve to illustrate these ideas and themes almost feel out of place and forced, in order to complete that journey.
That said, there is still a fascinating concept behind The Girl With All The Gifts and unlike the majority of zombie-horrors, this provides food for thought. It certainly suffers from an uneven flow and inconsistent pace and whilst there is plenty of humour in this (with Considine delivering the best lines) it too feels out of place on occasion, given the chilling introduction and thought-provoking theme.
There are no doubt creases in McCarthy’s work here, which could do with being ironed out, but he also deserves a lot of praise. His utilisation of the hauntingly brilliant score was perfect, and when he wanted to create tension and suspense he did so with great skill and in doing so keeps the audience guessing as to which direction the story and the characters will go. He also enabled some fine performances from his cast (how nice to see Paddy Considine given so much screen time!), all of whom embraced their characters with gusto and gave us more than generic stereotypes seen so often within this genre. It’s undoubtedly Sennia Nanua as Melanie, personifying the unique idea of this story against its numerous genre predecessors, who really helps The Girl With All The Gifts stand out amongst them.
By no means perfect, certainly not scary and definitely disjointed, but this is something different, enjoyable, interesting, and at times utterly enthralling. Well worth a watch if you’re a fan of the genre.