In my quest to catch up on the great films of 2017 that weren’t large tent poles. I have nothing against the big budget, big action comic book and genre films. There is definitely much more out there to appreciate.
The Girl With All The Gifts was a movie I knew nothing about and kept scrolling past in my Amazon queue. I heard Marc Bernardin recommend the movie. The way Bernardin breaks down story, characters, and production is magical. You’ll want to watch anything he recommends.
The Girl With All The Gifts follows Melanie (Sennia Nanua). Melanie is a child but her and her peers live more like high risk prisoner. Her life is straps, wheelchairs, and dry repetitive classroom work. Armed military led by Sgt Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) watch over the kids every movement.
The whole organization seems to be lead by a scientist who sees the children as subjects. Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) may be in it for the species but her detached nature also makes her something of a villain as the larger story unfolds.
Melanie’s only real ally is her teacher, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). Helen sees the children as children. She is lax with the rules while still following protocol. Her biggest crime in the movie is that she actually cares.
A term I have used in the past, more than a couple times, is zombie fatigue. Zombies have breached every last level of pop culture. The watering down of the zombie franchise has lead to zombies as cuddly creatures rather than something terrifying. The best zombie property running is The Walking Dead. In the world of TWD the zombies are more of an environmental backdrop to the story of the characters.
The Girl With All The Gifts has taken a played out genre, even a lot of staples from various popular zombie stories, and breathed new life into them. The movie follows the zombies and the virus as not only the main plot but also, in a way, the main character. Melanie herself is something of a zombie.
Mike Carey, who wrote both the novel and the screenplay, has taken the mystical ‘virus’ aspect of the zombie story and quite evolved it to stages beyond the walking dead, undead, zombies, infected, rage, hungry, biters, etc. Melanie, and her peers, are the second generation of infected. The children in The Girl With All The Gifts are the offspring of women who were pregnant when they got infected. Since the children weren’t directly infected they carry traits of both infected and non. The evolution of the virus and theories behind it are further explored during the course of the movie.
While The Girl With All The Gifts is a zombie movie, or a genre movie, categorizing it in a small box diminishes how great it is. A new spin on old tropes is just the beginning. In our cinematic world of fans being old enough to be the creators these genre films are getting better treatment than ever before. Along with the serious treatment we get fresh outlooks. These fresh outlooks come with better writing. Better writing attracts better talents.
Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close are well known. Close is a phenomenal actress who elevates the movie. Despite two well known actresses in the film, the breakout star is Sennia Nanua. Nanua is in almost every scene of this movie and does all the heavy lifting. She is as charismatic as a child as she is terrifying as an infected. She cycles through emotions as naturally as an actress with decades more working and life experience.
The only part the movie falls apart a bit is right in the end. It’s hard to say what an appropriate ending should be with the high concepts, elaborate set world, and great characters. This is the same issue LOST had. With such an immense set up where do you go? It isn’t fair to say the ending is bad, or wrong. It didn’t seem like enough. It feels flat and almost out of place.
If you’re looking for something fresh. Looking to get your zombie fix. Or looking for something to pass a couple hours you will have a hard time doing better than The Girl With All The Gifts.