The Girl with All the Gifts Review
The fate of the world lies within a very special little girl
Humanity faces the risk of extinction from a deadly virus which turns those infected into fast, blood thirsty creatures who will stop at nothing to curb their hunger.In a world stricken by a fungal plague that has turned those infected into empty shells of their former selves and driven by a seemingly endless hunger, a team of scientists and army personnel work together to try to find a cure so that the world they once knew can be restored. Set in the not too distant future the world has fallen into ruin and the memory of civilisation has all but disappeared. But in an underground bunker named Base H. E., Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) is close to finding a cure for the ‘hungries’ - a term used to describe those infected with a fungus turning them into zombie-like creatures with an intensified sense of hearing and smell and a lust for flesh. However, there is hope to rebuild what once was through the close study and dissection of a classroom of children. On the surface they appear like any other ordinary children, which makes their incarceration within small cells somewhat uncomfortable.However, they are far from normal. Dr. Caldwell describes them as second generation – infected by the virus in utero but with the ability to talk, think independently and even show compassion and feeling. Within this group of children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a very special ten year old girl indeed. Melanie loves Greek mythology and her favourite teacher, Miss Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who indulges her love of Greek history. Melanie loves being around others and learning new things, this chirp and chipper little girl is even pleasant to the rough and abrasive army guards as they strap her into her wheelchair. However, as with all dystopian stories, any safety and security is short lived and as a result a group of survivors are forced to leave the base in search of Beacon - a larger uninfected safe zone.
The Girl With All The Gifts is directed by Colm McCarthy who up until now has only directed one feature length film plus a number of TV series episodes (Peaky Blinders and Sherlock) and shorts. With a screenplay adapted and written by the author of the novel, M. R. Carey, McCarthy was in a good position to keep true to the novel and has managed to do this reasonably well, producing a concise version of the book in just under 2 hours. It doesn’t follow exactly word-for-word but the main elements and key plot devices are all there in a round about way. There is no explanation at the start of the film, the audience is dropped in and expected to pick it up from the get go and it works. One issue for me though, was the change in ethnicity in the two main characters Melanie and Miss Justineau and in one of the soldiers Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade). I’m sure there is a whole debate that could be opened up on this subject, but put simply, it just seemed unnecessary especially when so much else of the book was kept the same.
The film successfully brings the world described by Carey to life, so to speak, on screen. Shots of London, once known for its hustle and bustle, show how its now overgrown and how Mother Nature’s had the chance to take back what was her's and this really brings home the extent this disaster has had on the city and the world. The film is shot well and uses shifts in focus to emphasise key scenes with Melanie’s character, specifically after she eats. Unfortunately and to be expected, the film does lack the internal thoughts so frequent throughout the book. Because much of the character development in the book is narrated through internal monologues, this for me, resulted in a certain flatness. Some scenes did feel a bit rushed, but I suppose this was a result of comparing it to the book which is written rather poetically and with an abundance of detail. A knowledge of the book isn’t necessary and in fact the film is a bit more enjoyable if you haven’t read the book, in my opinion.
It’s not your average zombie film and it’s precisely this which makes it stand out
Sennia Nanua is good in the role of Melanie and really conveys the character well. She wonderfully displays an eagerness and thirst for knowledge and information like any young child kept locked in a cell would which, when contrasted with the monsterous side of her character, shows just how good a young actress she really is. It’s clear to see the fascination and awe she feels when she’s out in the world - she marvels at a cat flap and fridge magnets, things she’s never seen before. At no point is Nanua overshadowed by the rest of the adult cast, they work around her. She commands all her scenes and the chemistry between her and Miss Justineau translates well from page to screen.
Everyone is cast well in their roles, Aterton is good as the kind and caring teacher who develops a maternal relationship with her star pupil refusing to let her live up to her alternative alias: Test Subject 1. Paddy Considine could not be any more perfect as Sgt. Eddie Parks. However I do feel that his character's role was reduced somewhat in the film not giving him the room he has in the book to really develop Parks. That said, Considine does well with his character and despite having a much smaller scar fits the role well. Glenn Close is likewise brilliantly cast as Dr. Caldwell, void of emotion with a cold, stone like face determined to get her vaccine no matter what. In a smaller role is Akinade as Gallagher who in the book has a reasonably substantial role but is cut down considerably in the film, but nevertheless he plays the part well.
If you’re a fan of the book I don’t think you will be disappointed – the film takes a different road but gets to the final destination all the same. Its a well paced film with enough action and gore to keep it going. It isn’t your typical zombie flick but with elements of 28 Days Later thrown in, it offers something new and from a different perspective, making it definitely worth a watch.
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