Review: The Girl with All the Gifts (2017)

Colm McCarthy’s post apocalyptic coming-of-age story “The Girl with All the Gifts” is about a girl named Melanie who is a human-zombie-hybrid. She was raised in an underground military facility, only allowed to leave her cell bound to a wheelchair under armed surveillance. But after Melanie and a group of Soldiers have to escape the facility, facing a hostile world, she turns from captive to leader.
Here is a quick review and analysis of the major themes of one of the most interesting movies I have seen in 2017.

First of all, I am Sorry. I didn’t want to tell you why she was kept there in the first place, because the first 20 minutes of this movie are so good in giving us every information we need to know: It sets the tone, introduces the characters, and explains the context of the story in such a way that it feels like a spoiler to tell you beforehand. Probably the best intro of a movie I have seen in a long time, from a technical viewpoint and in regards to storytelling.

Also, the movie gives such a great introduction to the character of Melanie who is played by the newcomer Sennia Nanua. Her performance was amazing. As the pivot of the whole plot and character development, this movie needed an actress who can pull off everything in interaction with Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine who are all great actors in their respect. She did a great job and definitely carried the whole thing. She alone made the film worth watching and I hope to see her in another project soon.

It is a fact that a movie is as great as its villains and The Girl with All the Gifts have a particular interesting take on its antagonists:

Technically, the antagonist is the fungus that turns people into those zombie-like beings called „hungries“. On the other hand, this is also the key for their healing and the main carrier of sympathy, Melanie, is a hungry herself. The minor antagonists, Dr. Caldwell is driven by moral obligation to do what is right and actually, even Melanie herself seems heartless at times. For the sake of survival, right and wrong blurs until all those categories collapse in a great fire at the end of this movie. And I love the scenes in which „heroes“ and „villains“ interact with each other, not in a violent confrontation but in a calm discussion, showing that both parties have legit points.

The movie is thought provoking and the director’s spin on the zombie genre is refreshing, taking its place to the side of another British zombie movie from fifteen years ago: Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later“. In Boyle’s movie too, the world is taken back by nature and the protagonists wander through an acquainted, yet unknown world. “28 Days Later” is a great movie but forgets its initial structure in the course of the story. It becomes less conpletative by time, more action orientated and more predictable.

The same happens in the “Girl with All the Gifts”: Here the critical point was when Melanie meets a group of second-generation hungries that grew up outside the research facility. I like this idea and there could be done so much with this but instead we got a 19th century fantasy of a hypothetical „natural state“ of human society. Although their appearance opens up a new way of interpreting the story (I will come back to this later), this plot point was distracting and definitely put dirt on my relationship with this movie.

While we are on it: Entering spoiler area.
Not only that I didn’t like the appearance of the „lost children“. Kieran’s actions when he met the them were way off. For example, why did he leave his weapon outside? I liked the character of Kieran (Fisayo Akinade) and I think it was a good choice to kill off the comic relief for dramaturgical reasons (and darwinian reasons. Stupidy comes with a price), but I found his death badly written. A shame, given that it was the first death that actually felt like a loss for the group, because there was an actual connection between him and Melanie. A connection which is even picked up later on by Dr. Caldwell to manipulate her (Speaking of good antagonists!). A character with such a relevance deserved a better end. And that applies to both Kieran and Dr. Caldwell.

Although some plot points and design choices were a turn off, the ideas in itself aren’t bad and actually necessary in the context of its core message: The clash of generations.

The children reminded me a lot of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys in the movie adaption Hook* (which happens to feature a cameo of Glenn Close too) and I believe that their similarity in costume is a hint that these movies share a common theme: The conflict between generations. Adults vs children, humans vs the hungries, and whether we should welcome the new or preserve the old. Conservatism and reformism on a speciecist scale

I will definitely watch it again and write a more detailled analysis on this aspect.

Also, there is a special review coming soon, comparing The Girl with All the Gifts with another post-apocalyptic piece of art that I didn’t mention here but obviously begs for comparison: The Last of Us.

Stefan Barjaktarevic

Researcher and blogger on anthropology and archaeology, focusing mainly on the study of religion, mythology and folklore.

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