It is traditional to start a review with a brief synopsis of the movie. However with this film the story unfolds in such a way that it is best not to know. This makes it a little hard to review the film, for that reason I will keep my comments to what you can see in the trailer. Having said that, it would be preferable if you can avoid the trailer. Based on a novel by M.R. Carey about a dystopian future. Concentrating on a small group Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) a teacher, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) one of her pupils, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) a single minded research scientist and Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) a soldier. The group are central within a zombie outbreak.
The strength of the film is its multifaceted nature, the surface and the layers are equally as important and interesting. With a young adult slant the film, or to be precise, its adult characters have a certain fear, mistrust and lack of understanding of the teenage protagonists, this is a universal fear of the next generation. The next layer is a more general but also overt analogy for the state of mistrust and fear in the world as w whole. All this would be powerless if the film on the surface wasn’t so good. On the surface, it is a modern zombie movie given focus and originality by its low budget and a new twist. There is an air of Greek mythology within the narrative that is nicely mirrored in the stories told in the film.
As much as many people try and avoid the zombie debate, it is not only hard to avoid but actually an interesting question. In 2002 Danny Boyle introduced us to the infected in 28 Days later. Two years later Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) gave George A. Romero style zombies a new turn of pace. Where these creatures zombies? Who cares, they are as different from Romero’s zombies as they were from the zombies of classic movies like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. Simply, if you want to call them zombies, do, if you don’t, don’t.
Referred to as “hungries”, as with other infected, the zombie-like antagonists are both villains and victims. This makes our heroes, both heroes and villains, or more to the point there are no heroes or villains, themes previously the reserve of Guillermo del Toro. I have not led the book, but am led to believe the race of the two main characters Justineau and Melanie have been switched, while it would be easy of accusing the producers off whitewashing to cast Gemma Arterton, there is a bigger impact. Arterton’s character is a more passive protagonist with Sennia Nanua’s Melanie being the actual main character, indeed the title character. I don’t know if the filmmakers were looking for a black girl or simply cast the best child actor they could find. Either way, Nanua is excellent providing both the heart and the narrative of the film, in her we may be seeing the birth of a new star. The rest of the cast are also brilliant with nuanced performances form Arterton, Close and Considine.
On a side note a lot of the film was shot in my home town of Birmingham, a relatively new experience as England’s second city has never had a film industry. I look forward to seeing more recognisable places, but also hope they become less distracting as they become more common.
Making the most of its small budget The Girl with All the Gifts is a handsome and interesting film that contains moments of both tension and excitement. Elevated from what could have been a direct to DVD or VOD movie by both casting and originality. With just enough exposition to keep the story going, the subtext asks more questions than it answers leaving the viewer with lots to think about.