Review: The Girl with All the Gifts (2017)

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

I don’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 I have seen in a long time, from a technical viewpoint and in regards to storytelling. First impression matters, and this movie gave me the reason to keep watching.

The movie gives such a great introduction to the main character. She is played by the newcomer Sennia Nanua and her performance was amazing. Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine are all great actors in their respect. But as the pivot of the whole plot, Sennia was exactly what the movie needed. 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.

A movie is as great as its villains and this movie have a particular interesting take on its antagonists: Technically, the antagonist is the fungus that turns people into those zombie-like creatures called „hungries“. On the other hand, this fungus is also the key for their healing. Even the main carrier of sympathy, Melanie, has more to her than the first minutes of the movie reveals. The minor antagonists are not shown in a too bad light either. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) is responsible for developing a vaccination against the epidemic. A noble goal, but it involves Melanie’s death. For the sake of survival, right and wrong blurs until all these categories collapse in a great fire. And I love the scenes in which „heroes“ and „villains“ interact with each other. Their confrontantions are not violent but calm discussions, 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. “Girl with All the Gifts” sticks to its tone and structure but there are problems nevertheless:

For me, 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 design choice was distracting.

Entering spoiler area

Not only that I didn’t like the appearance of the „lost children“, Kieran’s actions when he met 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). I just wished his death scene was written differently. After all, this was the first death that actually felt like a loss for the group. There was a connection between him and Melanie. A connection which is even picked up later on by Dr. Caldwell in order to manipulate her (Speaking of good antagonists!). A character with such a relevance like Kieran deserved a better end. And that applies to both him and Dr. Caldwell (her death is even worse… but again, nature is merciless, so it might be not even that bad)

Although some plot points and design choices were a turn off, the ideas in itself aren’t bad at all and actually necessary in the context of its core message. Some aspects reminded me a lot of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys in the movie adaption “Hook” (which happens to feature a cameo of Glenn Close).  I believe that these two movies share a common theme: The conflict between generations. As in Hook, this movie tackles the relationship between adults vs children, but also humans vs hungries, and whether we should welcome the new or preserve the old. Conservatism and reformism on a speciecist scale, so to speak. I will definitely watch it again and maybe elaborate on this aspect a little more in a future post.

While watching it i couldn’t but compare 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. A comparative review could be interesting.