The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

2017 #28
Colm McCarthy | 111 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.00:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

The Girl with All the Gifts

When George A. Romero invented the zombie subgenre in the ’60s, he was more concerned with allegory than blood ‘n’ guts. The latter has come to dominate, as it has with so much of the broader horror genre, but from time to time there’s still room for thoughtful contributions more befitting Romero’s legacy. This low-budget British film, adapted from a young adult novel, is one such effort.

As the film opens we’re introduced to Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a young girl who sits in a concrete bedroom treasuring her photo of a kitten. Then soldiers enter and, at gunpoint, strap her to a chair, before wheeling her to a classroom with similarly restrained children. It’s just the beginning of a fantastic first act, full of atmosphere and intrigue as this world is rolled out before us. The less you know the better, though the chances of going in so cold that it’s a total mystery are sadly slim. If you’re intrigued enough already to check out the movie on my recommendation alone, stop reading now! Go watch it! If not…

So, as it turns out, we’re in the near future and a fungal disease has turned most of humanity into zombie-like creatures known as ‘hungries’. They spend most of their time in a dormant trance, but the smell of uninfected blood sends them wild and chompy. Melanie and her classmates are children who are infected but ‘normal’ — unless provoked, when they too turn into ravenous fiends — and they may hold the key to a cure. They live on an army base, but, when it’s overrun by hungries, Melanie and a ragtag group of survivors — including Paddy Considine’s sergeant, teacher Gemma Arterton, and scientist Glenn Close, who’s obsessed with finding a cure at any cost — hit the road in search of safe haven.

On the road

In the A.V. Club’s review, Katie Rife asserts that “once this initial premise is revealed and The Girl With All The Gifts leaves the base… this intriguing twist on zombie lore becomes subsumed by postapocalyptic road-trip cliché.” Well, yes and no. There are certainly some familiar beats, but I felt like those just gave a narrative shape to contain otherwise interesting ideas. I haven’t seen enough zombie movies to vouch for The Girl With All The Gifts being 100% original, but I’d certainly not come across some of its ideas before. That goes for both the way it handles the zombie action (though, of course, there are only so many ways you can depict the monstrous undead) and the social commentary, which, as much as anything, tackles the way children and adults interrelate.

The eponymous girl is fantastic — Melanie is an interesting character, and an interesting type of character too. She’s fantastically played by Sennia Nanua, who may be a talent to watch out for in future (I say ‘may’ because, per IMDb, she’s not got anything else coming up). The more familiar supporting cast are as superb as you’d expect. Glenn Close brings plausibility to what could’ve just been an Evil Scientist role, while Gemma Arterton provides the film’s heart as a motherly teacher. Paddy Considine’s role is best appreciated once all is said and done — he seems to be just the gruff soldier type, but snippets of his backstory are revealed right up until the end, revealing new layers to his character.

Special school

Director Colm McCarthy, a veteran of copious amounts of British TV (Spooks, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Ripper Street, Peaky Blinders, and much, much more), keeps the focus on the characters while also giving their world a fantastic sense of scale. The film was made for a pittance (for comparison, it cost about half as much as a single episode of Game of Thrones) but looks incredible. There may be some blurry edges on green screen shots and things like that, but I’ve seen less convincing effects work in movies that cost 50 times as much. Some of the footage was captured by flying over the remains of a town left to rot after Chernobyl, which lends a veracity to the post-apocalyptic vistas (and presumably saved a tonne on CGI). In terms of places you can actually take actors, it was partly filmed in Birmingham, which seems to be becoming a go-to location for dystopian / post-apocalyptic cityscapes (Spielberg’s forthcoming Ready Player One also shot there last year).

The zombie genre is an overcrowded one nowadays, even if you exclude the innumerable direct-to-DVD knock-offs, but there’s still space for well-made movies that can put the familiar tropes to greater use. The Girl with All the Gifts is an impressively mounted and performed production, and is worth watching if just for that horror-thriller kick. However, it also has something to say. I imagine Romero would be pleased.

5 out of 5

The Girl with All the Gifts is available on Sky Cinema from today.

The Interruptive Monthly Update for February 2017

And the award for Most Recent Month goes to… January!

I’m sorry, no, there’s a mistake. February, you guys won Most Recent Month. This is not a joke. This is not a joke, I’m afraid they read the wrong thing. This is not a joke. February has won Most Recent Month. February, Most Recent Month.


#16 Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
#17 It Follows (2014)
#18 Elstree 1976 (2015)
#19 Hell or High Water (2016)
#19a Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition (2015/2016)
#20 In a Valley of Violence (2016)
#21 Don’t Breathe (2016)
#22 Fandango (1985)
#23 Hail, Caesar! (2016)
#24 San Andreas (2015)
#25 Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (2015)
#26 Dances with Wolves: Special Edition (1990/1991)
#27 Police Academy (1984)
#28 The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
#29 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Fandango

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  • I watched 14 new films in February, plus one alternate version.
  • That’s now my 33rd consecutive month with ten or more films.
  • It easily passes the February average (11.22; now 11.5), but isn’t even close to the highest February (last year’s 24).
  • It also falls just short of the last 12 months’ average (15.83; now 15 exactly).
  • It’s also behind where I was this time last year (#44!), but it’s equal to this time in 2015 and ahead of every other year.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS viewing: the Coen brothers’ frothy ode to Hollywood (which may have deeper stuff going on that, frankly, I wish it didn’t try to bother with), Hail, Caesar!
  • I know some people like to schedule exactly which month they’ll watch each of their Blindspot films. Never quite understood why personally, and here’s a good argument for why not: suddenly finding myself with a weekend all to, er, myself, I was able to comfortably watch all four hours of Dances with Wolves.



The 21st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
One of this year’s Best Picture nominees and a winner from the past may be among my viewing this month, but, while I liked them both very much, there were other films I enjoyed even more. Of those, I think I’m going to pick a coming-of-age comedy-drama I’d never even heard of ’til the ghost of 82 recommended it to me last year, Fandango. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There were no outright stinkers this month — and considering I watched things like San Andreas, Police Academy, and Teenage Mutant Michael Bay Turtles 2, I’m surprised. I nearly gave this award to Don’t Breathe, because the hyper-praised horror-thriller isn’t quite deserving of the extreme love it attracted, but I’ll probably give it a higher star rating than those three I already mentioned. Instead I’ll plump for Police Academy, which isn’t bad but isn’t all that great either.

Best Cover Version of a Classic Song of the Month
After getting an oriental-tinged version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps in Kubo last month, this month it’s California Dreamin’ given a hyper-dramatic do-over by Sia for San Andreas.

Best Dog of the Month
Could it be the talented Abby from In a Valley of Violence? (Very much so.) Could it be the vicious guard dog from Don’t Breathe? (Not really.) Could it be Snoopy? (Eh…) No, the actual winner is the cute little scruffy dog that gets chased by zombies but runs away and totally survives (yes he does) from The Girl with All the Gifts.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
My stats went through the roof this month thanks to being linked to in an article on Cracked.com — just those hits alone would make February 2017 my fourth highest month ever. But it was an old review (Wizardhood) so has nothing to do with this award. Two posts vied neck and neck all month, but in the end It Follows was bested by my review of “Tim Burton’s X-Men”, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Special Award for Best Pun of the Month
This is a bit “patting myself on the back” (possibly undeservedly) but, honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of referring to In a Valley of Violence as “John Wick-y wicky wild wild West”.



You may have noticed there were fewer reviews this month than normal. That’s because (in case you missed it) I marked the blog’s 10th anniversary by posting ten top tens about the last ten years. Plus the customary statistics post, of course.


Despite its aim, my rewatchathon has thus far done very little to halt my focus on watching stuff I’ve never seen before — instead of one a week, I’m averaging one a month. Oops.

#2 21 Jump Street (2012)

I suppose you could also count Fury Road: Black & Chrome down here, but the decolourisation has such a profound effect on the feel of the film that I think it belongs in my main list, albeit as an unnumbered aside, like most alternate versions. And it can’t really be in both lists, can it?

It’s OK though, there are still ten months to go…


So, I said I was going to post 100 Favourites II on consecutive days for the rest of this week. I’ve decided that’s not going to work out, so instead I’ll post the four parts weekly, starting this Sunday.

Other than that, after spending ages celebrating the blog’s anniversary, regular service will be resumed.