The Girl With All The Gifts – Movie Review
The film is currently rated 6.7 out of 10 on IMDB and the score is based on the votes from just over 17,000 members. As with a large amount of British cinema and television, I feel like this only accurately reflects how North American audiences feel. There is a different tone and storytelling style in the majority of UK productions, and it can be somewhat of an acquired taste. Look at The Office, Shameless, Life on Mars, and Skins. Essentially, the narratives are the same – it just comes down to accents, tone, and delivery. This film is rated R, and given the subject matter of the film, I believe this to be justified. The violence displayed is rather graphic, but what is more unsettling is the things that are not shown, but rather implied through suggestive framing and/or editing. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
The Girl With All The Gifts is based on the 2014 novel of the same name written by M. R. Carey. The film was directed by Colm McCarthy who had directed a handful of short films, a feature, and a made-for-TV movie, but mainly cut his teeth directing episodic television on shows like Peaky Blinders, Ripper Street, Dr. Who, and Murphy’s Law. All that practice led McCarthy to The Girl With All The Gifts and boy oh boy did he ever nail it. The film stars Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, and Sennina Nanua.
The screenplay for this horror thriller-ama was written by Mike Carey and the film has a total run time of 1 hour and 51 minutes. Produced on a budget of roughly $4,000,000 the film grossed $1,924,362 theatrically with the majority of the earnings coming from the United Kingdom and Russia. Sadly, it was not given worldwide distribution and thus never made it to theaters in the US or Canada.
It received a large portion of its budget from the BFI Film Fund and Creative England. It was the largest investment Creative England had ever made and one of the largest for BFI. The shots of a deserted London were actually filmed in an abandoned town in the Ukraine called Pripyat with a drone (it has been uninhabited since the Chernobyl reactor disaster in 1986).
The plot is complex, yet simple. In a not too distant dystopian future, a scientist, a teacher, a soldier, and a peculiar young girl named Melanie who has a penchant for blood and flesh, embark on a perilous journey where survival is their only option. The story moves at a good pace, but might feel slow to some in a few spots.
The lead actress is phenomenal – absolutely perfect. Her performance carries so much weight, and for such a young actor, it’s very nuanced. There is genuinely a lot of depth and range shown and her ability to draw you in never ceased to amaze me. Even in scenes where she’s not speaking, never would I have thought in my wildest dreams would I be saying that a film with this level of guttural grunting or feral screeching would have caused such an emotional effect in me. But it did. The acting is on point, cinematography, CG (used very sparingly) and color grading all helped to create a genuinely believable post-apocalyptic world. SPOILER ALERT! Do not continue if you don’t want to have key plot points revealed. You have been warned.
Humanity and the world have been decimated by a mysterious fungal disease that causes those affected by it lose control over their most basic primal instincts and thus they become feral, man-eating monsters known as “Hungries.” (This might be one of the most clever ways to describe this variant of the classic Zombie – which might I add – are nothing like the Walkers from The Walking Dead. Hungires are much closer to the rage-infused beings in 28 Days Later, I am Legend, or even World War Z).
The only hope for the survival of the human race rests on the shoulders of a group of children infected with the virus who have been able to retain the ability to think and feel. Inside a secluded British army base, these children are kept under literal lock and key, confined to wheelchairs where their arms, legs, and heads are bound. They “go to school” and are subjected to cruel experiments by scientists who are searching for a cure. When the base is overrun by Hungries, Dr. Caroline Caldwell, school teacher Helen Justineau, Sgt. Eddie Parks, and Melanie, escape.
The ending might appear cut and dry to some, but others might have missed what I really think was going on. I challenge you to rewatch the film and examine the relationship between Melanie and her teacher, Miss. Justineau. It all begins in that pivotal scene where she shows Melanie some compassion by placing her hand on top of her head in the classroom. Shortly after when Melanie is put back in her room, she has an altercation with a guard where she expresses her feelings about her beloved teacher. This is the budding of an obsession that will ultimately become an unhealthy codependent relationship. When that scene is looked at and considered in context with the ending, it adds another layer of character to Melaine. Dare I say she might be borderline psychopathic? She’s already proven herself to be resourceful time and time again at this point and as the virus affects one’s mental state, could it have manifested differently in Melanie’s case?
When Melanie sets fire to the fungus tree and causes the pods containing spores of the virus to rupture, she has already locked Miss. Justineau away in the air tight bunker. There was just something so unsettling about it, very complex. Seeing as the film is based on a novel I’m sure more answers and insight lie within its pages.
Was her killing of humanity as simple as “Your time is done here, it’s our time now?” It seemed so calculated – the only “person” alive is the teacher – and on the surface it makes sense. She can pass on knowledge that Melanie and the other kids are unaware of. But Melanie has already claimed ownership of Miss Justineau in her cell with the guard at the beginning of the film, so you need to ask yourself – Did she really just wipe out humanity just so that she could have her teacher all to herself?
So in closing, all we can really say is this film is CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED! Give it a chance, be receptive, and be patient. They made an amazingly fresh and inventive zombie movie that is about so much more than blowing the heads off of some walking corpses. Keep in mind that they made the movie on a budget that might barely the cover wardrobe costs on a big budget studio film. It was done on the cheap, but in no way does it feel like it.