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Movie Review: The Girl with All the Gifts

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Certificate 15, 111 minutes

Director: Colm McCarthy

Stars: Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine

The Girl with All the Gifts is based on the book of the same name by M. R. Carey. It starts with a young girl counting. The girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), is in an almost completely bare room, a cell in all appearances. There is a bed, a wheelchair and a couple of photos which she hides under her pillow. When voices call out outside the cell, Melanie gets into the wheelchair and partially straps herself in. Two armed soldiers enter the room, and the girl politely greets both of them by name. Both point their weapons at Melanie, then one straps her fully in to the wheelchair whilst the other holds her weapon on the girl.

The girl is wheeled out of the cell by the soldiers into a corridor where another nineteen children, boys and girls, all apparently the same age, all dressed identically and all also strapped into wheelchairs are also being wheeled along the corridor by armed soldiers. The soldiers seem uncomfortable around the children, referring to them as it and abominations. They are also told to not touch them. All the children are wheeled into a classroom, parked in spaces well away from each other, and then left with a teacher. The corridors, cells and classroom all give the impression of being underground.

The Girl with All the Gifts
The initial teacher doesn't really treat the children as people, but she is quickly replaced by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Runner, Runner), for whom she was filling in. Miss Justineau seems to treat the children as children more than anyone else so far, telling them a story when Melanie asks, about Pandora, and the children seem to like her too, especially Melanie. Melanie is quite obviously very intelligent, answering most of the questions asked. At the end of the day, the children are taken back to the cell and fed. The food is a bowl of live grubs or worms, and it seems to have an almost drug like effect on the girl  That night, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), who is in charge of the project, speaks to Melanie. Dr Caldwell considers Melanie to be an experimental subject, one that can mimic human behaviour but isn't human.

In class the next day, when one of the children is missing, Miss Justineau makes a mistake and touches Melanie on the head. Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine, The World's End) angrily comes into the room and demonstrates why this is a bad idea. Rubbing his arm clean, he holds it near to one of the children. The child is affected by the smell and starts chattering his teeth, trying to sink them into the sergeant's arm. Soon, all the children but Melanie are reacting the same way to the smell. For some reason, it is triggering a reaction in them.

The day after, Melanie is taken out of the underground area to the surface. The underground complex is part of what looks like a military base, and one that is under attack. The attackers are all people, but ones with peculiar growths covering their skin. They are what are called "Hungries" - people who have been affected by a fungus that has turned them into creatures craving food, preferably living food by the looks of it. Melanie and the other children are also Hungries, which is why the soldiers are cautious around them, but different in some way. They can still think and talk and interact, whilst the other Hungries seen cannot. Dr Caldwell is working on a cure for the fungal infection, and the children are a part of it. The process of making the cure is not survivable for the children.

Before Dr Caldwell can operate on Melanie, the base is overrun by Hungries. Melanie, Dr Caldwell and Miss Justineau escape in a truck drive by Sergeant Parks and a couple of other soldiers. They need to make it to another base, called Beacon, through territory, including London, that is overrun by Hungries. The Hungries hunt by smell, which is why the children reacted the way they did in the classroom. At other times, they are effectively asleep until disturbed. The infection is also spread by bodily fluids, so if a Hungry bites someone, they, too, become a Hungry in a matter of a couple of minutes.

Travelling through London is difficult and dangerous, and gradually some of the others start treating Melanie more as a person, albeit a potentially dangerous one who needs restraining, than as the thing they did earlier, just like Helen Justineau. Helen clearly, from near the beginning of the film, cares for Melanie, and the feeling is reciprocated. Along the way, Dr Caldwell reveals the history behind Melanie and the other children, and also makes it clear that Melanie is essential to making a cure.

Apart from the very beginning of the film, there are a very limited number of characters, only the people who could escape in the truck, and the film depends on the interactions between them. There is a clear bond between Helen and Melanie, and the other soldiers start coming around too. Caldwell is willing to do absolutely anything necessary to get the cure and save everyone. Presumably, all the infected could potentially be cured, because there aren't that many uninfected left. This is a very character driven film, rather than depending on effects. The Hungries look pretty believable, only displaying the external signs of the fungal infection (which the children do not), rather than missing body parts and flesh.

There are a number of signs, such as the height of the trees in London and a number of other things, that suggest the fungal infection hit the world many years ago, probably over a decade. There are some other things that don't seem to match up with that. Many of the Hungries don't look like they've been wandering around in the same clothes for a decade (for one thing, they are still wearing them; the clothes haven't fallen to pieces with age and neglect) and some of the supplies found are in far better shape - as in, still edible - than is realistically possible for their age. The path followed through a deserted London effectively conveys the impression of an abandoned city (probably because parts of it were filmed in a city that's been abandoned for a few decades[1]) but there is the disconnect between certain aspects, if noticed. This is a low budget horror film, which can be implied, but it doesn't affect the film; it still works.

Zombies, since their modern inception in Night of the Living Dead, have been a popular creature in films and other media. One perennial problem with them is that they suffer from a bit of a believability issue - namely, that they are dead but still up and moving, and for some reason want to eat people. Coming up with a plausible explanation for this is often difficult, and usually requires at least a degree of suspension of disbelief. What this film, and others such as 28 Days Later (which this has more than a few parallels to and will probably be compared to), video games such as Left 4 Dead and novels such as Aftertime do to get around this is make the zombies still be alive, but affected by some sort of disease that makes them act just like zombies, including the hunger for flesh and the transmission of the disease by bites, without the whole being dead part. The Girl with All the Gifts is an effective, and sometimes disturbing, zombie horror film, that adds a definite edge of believability to the zombie apocalypse.
The Girl with All the Gifts egdcltd 2016-10-05 3.5 0 5
3.5/5
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Bibliography

  1. "The story behind 'The Girl With All The Gifts'." Screen Daily. 5/10/2016 <Web >

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