Starring: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close
Genre: Thriller/ Horror
In a future where most of the population have been infected with a fungal infection which turns them into flesh eating zombie-like-figures referred to as ‘hungries’. Humankind’s only hope of survival are a small group of children who are offspring of infected humans who though craving human flesh just like other hungries, can also think and feel like uninfected people. In a remote army base the children are taught basic life skills and knowledge by teacher Helen (Arterton), while also being the subjects of experiments by scientist Caroline Caldwell (Close). The standout pupil is the bright and compassionate Melanie (Sennia Nanua). However, after the base is taken over Helen, Caroline, Melanie and the commander of the base Sgt. Eddie Parks (Considine) must embark on a perilous journey across a ravaged England, while Melanie is forced to come to terms with who she really is.
When hearing about the premise and plot for The Girl with All the Gifts it is easy, and perfectly understandable to just think “oh no, not another post-apocalyptic zombie film.” No matter what anyone’s definition of what a ‘zombie’ is these days, both the film and TV industry do like to churn out plenty of genre pieces, but then what genre is not over subscribed these days?
Well, as much as it is certainly more than happy to unashamedly embrace some elements of being a genre piece and a fair few clichés that comes with it, The Girl with All the Gifts brings enough of its own ideas and intelligence to more than justify being a welcome addition to this genre.
This is most certainly a film made on its own terms, and is all the better and far more engaging and gripping for it. There is no opening prologue or voice-over, the audience is simply thrown straight into the plot trying to pick up small pieces of information as the film goes along and this sets the tone, as throughout exposition is generally kept to a minimum. Though there are inevitably the occasional plot contrivances and survival-in-a-hostile-post-apocalyptic-environment clichés, the fact the film slowly reveals key information means it is often impossible to full know where exactly the plot is going. This combined with how the film is made on both a visual and audio scale combine to make a viewing experience that is often genuinely tense, as well as deeply engaging.
Visually, The Girl with All the Gifts is also an impressive achievement, considering its low budget. There a few moments when it tries to show wider shots of a deserted London that the budget constraints do show, but on the whole McCarthy’s static camerawork is very effective at creating an atmosphere that is both cinematic and captures very well the tone of the film. There are certainly many powerful and unforgettable individual scenes and images throughout.
The sound design too pays a huge part in creating such an engrossing film; Cristopal Tapia de Veer’s score contains some genuinely unsettling compositions that complements the mood and tone of the narrative without ever feeling intrusive or like a lazy gimmick. Of course a film of this genre will contain some gore, and these moments are presented in a very matter-of-fact and appropriate way, as opposed to over the top or being gory for the sake of it, which could have easily undermined the whole story if done in this way.
The performances too are excellent; Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close are all excellent and very convincing in their roles, all of which are vital for the film to work as well as it does. However the main star is Sennia Nanua as Melanie in her first feature length role. The casting was vital, as often she has whole scenes all to herself, but yet Nanua portrays the complex variations in her character that often drive the plot with absolute conviction.
As the plot goes along, there is of course the occasional cliché ticked off, and more annoyingly the occasional clunky moment in which something really interesting happens that is really well put together to be then spoilt by a character explaining it. This element of dumbing down the film does unfortunately take the audience out of the moment. However, the odd flaw aside, The Girl with All the Gifts remains a genuinely tense and engrossing film. It remains this way because it manages to stay true to itself, incorporate with appropriate intelligence some very interesting philosophical and moral ideas, and have an appropriate ending. These as well as some individual moments will certainly stay with the viewer for a fair while, and make for a film that is most definitely a welcome addition to an overcrowded film genre.
A genuinely intelligent and deeply engrossing addition to a very over-familiar concept and genre; The Girl with All the Gifts may have a few flaws, but overall is a film that grips from start to finish.