REVIEWED : The Girl with All the Gifts (2016, Colm McCarthy)

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Due to the popularity of hit television series such as “The Walking Dead”, zombie films have become somewhat of a mainstay within contemporary cinema. With its own ‘zombie’ sub-genre, and even productions having been catered for all audience demographics – including children, the idea of a fresh undead centric narrative seems lost to carbon copies of those most popular. Luckily, “The Girl With all the Gifts” is not simply a replica of whats come before, but instead a well crafted, beautifully shot character study that brings a fresh focus to an over relied upon premise while also highlighting the breadth of talent found within the British film industry.

Based on the novel of the same name by British author M.R. Carey, “The Girl with all the Gifts” builds upon the Edgar Award winning short Iphigenia In Aulis, as humanity is brought to the brink of extinction due to a fungal growth that warps humans into feral and dangerous creatures, ‘hungries’.  With all but a few pockets of society lost to this dangerous epidemic, military bases have been created where the virus is explored and a cure is sought after. Beginning with one of these detention facilities the narrative introduces the character of Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a young and inquisitive girl who loves education and especially her teacher Mrs Justineau (Gemma Arterton).

Confined in a specially created wheelchair, it becomes quickly apparent that Melanie is not your typical child, but is in fact a second generation ‘Hungry’ that has managed to adapt the virus into a manner that allows for full awareness. Distrusted by the two authority figures within the base, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) and no nonsense Sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), Melanie does not fully understand her purpose in the world. However, when their containment is breached, the four are thrust together in surviving the onslaught and exploring the derelict landscape as they seek safety.

Although the film production follows some common templates of the zombie genre (derelict buildings, hospital wards and overgrowth and greenery) Colm McCarthy manages to direct something that feels fresh throughout and not bogged down on those film productions from which it takes its inspiration. Like Danny Boyle’s brilliant ’28 Days Later’, a film that inspired the resurgence of zombie films, McCarthy unsettles his audience by the consistent weirdness of actions directed towards his primarily child cast. This allows for moments of anxiety to warp the films proceedings into a tense collection of set pieces, and disturbing dialogue. When the troupes do arise in proceedings, the audience is so engrossed by what is being explored that they become somewhat backgrounded in the character study itself.

To aid in this, McCarthy has crafted together a fine example of British talent to depict the various roles that the narrative explores. Gemma Arterton throws away her Hollywood-esc persona to fully focus on a gritty example of motherhood within a dystopian landscape. The audiences morality is based on the actions of her teacher, and as such gives a direct correspondence from which to judge the actions of the other principle cast.  Glenn Close highlights her full acting range with the role of Dr Caldwell, a character so close to the ethical line of whats right that the films final third is based upon audience assumption of her antagonistic nature, to never fully realise to what extent she serves as such. Making difficult decisions, that progress the plot, Caldwell is presented as the films villain, but one that is rendered in responsibility to her people and not out to be primarily evil for no particularly reasons. Paddy Considine seems tailored to enjoy the role of brash Sgt Parks, with his own particular strictness bringing a high level of authority to a generic soldier character. Tasked with fulfilling his focus, the character grows throughout the narrative and shows a brilliant charismatic chemistry with both Arterton and Nanua that cements the emotional core of the films difficult subject matter.

Nanua is most definitely the most surprising and brilliant selection within the cast, giving a loving and innocent curve to a monster in the post humanistic manner. Delightful to follow, her performance of Melanie is really the heart of the film, from which the other more experiences work around to formulate their individual development. With a perfect casting in such an important role, the film manages to present the narrative in a highly enveloping and progressive manner which adds levels of craft to an already establish narrative arc.

“The Girl with all the Gifts” is a smart thinking, beautifully scripted piece of zombie art. Following similar troupes to other films within this genre, the narrative can become somewhat repetitive of whats already been seen but manages to still feel fresh and warranted in a full roster of similar productions. With its production values at the highest level throughout, and its brilliant use of the principle cast members, the film becomes a brilliant showpiece of the British Film Industry and its place within the larger studios and production companies found throughout the world. With its use of harrowing realism, a twisted focus on children in film  and a character study built on the intimate relationships between its four leads brings about a movie that lingers long after the films close.

Plot – 3.5

Acting – 4

Direction – 3.5

Effects – 4

Retrospect – 4

Overall – 3.75

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