Movie Review: The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
“Our greatest threat is our only hope.”
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine
Synopsis: In a mid-apocalyptic world a young girl who poses a major threat to humanity is also its only hope of survival.
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Each morning, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a bright, articulate young girl with a sunny disposition, counts the seconds to the moment when her captors open the door of her cell. By the time two fully armed British soldiers have entered she is already seated in the wheelchair in which she will be restrained for the rest of the day. From her cell, she’s wheeled to a room in which she joins a dozen or more similarly restrained children. And as their teacher, the personable and sympathetic Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Runner Runner) delivers their lesson, guards stand by with weapons poised.
So begins Colm McCarthy’s unique horror movie, which is essentially a zombie flick, even though his zombies are living humans, referred to as ‘hungries’, who’ve been infected by a fungal disease which turns its victims into feral creatures with a craving for the flesh of the living. Unlike most other horror sub-genres, the zombie movie is one that has continually evolved since its cinematic inception back in the 1930s. The undead subjects of voodoo magic became shuffling, flesh-eating corpses who eventually learned how to chase their prey; now, a tiny portion of them, infected while in their mothers’ wombs, have developed the ability to learn and think for themselves. Twelve years or so after the outbreak of the disease, a few isolated military bases provide a makeshift home for the last dwindling pockets of humanity, and military scientists are engaged in a desperate race against time to find a cure. However, the base in which Melanie and her friends are imprisoned and educated is under siege, and it’s only a matter of time before its defences are breached.
The Girl with All the Gifts introduces an evolutionary quantum leap that adds a complex moral and humanist dimension that should be incompatible with what is widely considered to be a pulp genre – which probably explains why it has failed at the box office and is to receive only a limited release in the States nearly five months after it reached screens in the UK. Until now, the decimation of civilisation has been portrayed as a tragedy, an aberration of nature, but The Girl with All the Gifts questions our natural tendency to see ourselves as the culmination of an evolutionary process instead of merely one of many rungs on a ladder under continuous construction. McCarthy’s movie considers a near future in which the human race is supplanted by a seismic shift in the evolutionary process in a manner which is chillingly plausible – and which somehow manages to cast someone endeavouring to save humanity in a villainous light. But that doesn’t mean The Girl with All the Gifts has no room for the tense encounters and exquisitely staged chase scenes that one would expect from a quality addition to the genre; after the base is finally invaded by the infected, Melanie and Justineau, accompanied by a soldier (Paddy Considine – The World’s End, Child 44) and a scientist (Glenn Close – 102 Dalmatians, Warcraft) who believes she has found a cure, are forced not only to venture out into the world but to creep amongst crowds of motionless hungries from whom their presence is concealed by a specially developed blocker gel, but who can be awakened by a sudden noise or slight touch. These variations on familiar zombie tropes allow McCarthy to create scenes that crackle with tension, and it’s only a few minor plot holes and some poor decisions made by supposedly intelligent characters in the film’s final third that prevent The Girl With all the Gifts from being a classic of the genre.
(Reviewed 13th January 2017)