Movie Review: The Girl with All the Gifts (2017)

Posted: May 9, 2017 in Movie Reviews
Tags: , , ,

The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts_posterThe Girl with All the Gifts (2017)

Starring- Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca, Dominique Tipper, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh

Director- Colm McCarthy

R- disturbing violence/bloody images, and language


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In search for a cure for the plague of the undead that decimated humanity, scientists in a military installation study infected children who have nevertheless retained their ability to feel and reason — despite their no-less ravenous hunger for human flesh. When the undead overrun the facility, one of the children, a particularly bright girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), finds herself on the run with a group including her kindly teacher, the chief scientist, and a handful of soldiers.

The Girl with All the Gifts isn’t quite the kick in the pants the by-now thoroughly stale zombie genre needs, but it’s good enough to serve as a reminder why such stories are, much like their monsters, doggedly clinging to life.

That’s because its strength and its weakness are one and the same. It both transcends and succumbs to its formula, just in different respects. It has just enough flashes of inspiration to begin justifying its existence, but not quite enough to completely overpower one’s zombie fatigue.

In some areas, it blazes new trails; in others, it does the same old thing. There’s enough life in the former and enough functionality in the latter that the movie comes through pretty well in the end.

The premise is certainly unique. There are so many zombie movies out there that I’m sure “thinking zombies” have been done before (don’t some of the later George Romero movies start to play with that idea? I’ve only ever seen Night of the Living Dead); regardless, it hasn’t been done recently, or to death, and there’s no definitive film built on that idea. So The Girl with All the Gifts gets a lot of mileage out of the concept of the tormented flesh-eating monster, a thinking, feeling being who just happens to suffer from an insatiable urge to eat the living. It’s partially a “zombies as the Incredible Hulk” story, centered on a fundamentally human character with an uncontrollable beast living inside of her. The movie also clears space to cast doubt around its protagonist, forcing you to question whether her humanity is genuine or, as the scientists posit, learned behavior serving as nothing more than a means to a bloody end. (Although this is a double-edged sword, and the movie probably waits too long to definitively confirm this — at a certain point, you just need to understand the protagonist).

The premise also triggers a moral dilemma that powers the drama — there are now, in essence, two species competing for space on the planet, human beings and these infected children, and their survival is increasingly becoming a zero-sum game. The experiments through which scientists are slowly synthesizing a cure result in the subject’s death. Melanie has a foot in both camps, an affinity for humanity centered on her sympathetic teacher and the universal, ingrained need to survive — and thus, a choice to make. And I’m glad that the movie eventually forces its characters to play their hand and offers no easy way out of this scenario.

That said, most of its story ends up being standard zombie horror fare — eventually, the characters are stranded outside the safety of their walls, and we follow a small group of them as they move from Point A to Point B and the undead gradually thin their numbers. There are spurts of originality here and there, trying to reshape the plot into something more novel, but the movie never quite figures out what it wants to do.

The characters follow suit: Some of them are interesting, and some of them are types. Unfortunately, there are more of the latter than the former. You have the major sympathetic characters who will probably survive the movie, the minor sympathetic characters who are slated for death in order to set the stakes, and the unsympathetic characters bound for a bit of poetic justice. The movie places some of them in an interesting context: Glenn Close’s morally questionable scientist is the same as every other morally questionable scientist who’s ever been in a movie like this, but at least her reasoning is explored to the point of being sympathetic. The survival of humanity does kind of depend on what she’s doing; the movie isn’t afraid to ask questions about what is and isn’t off-limits in the name of preserving our species. It would be even more interesting if the script had any interesting counterpoints to her arguments; her chief opposition, Melanie’s teacher, is just generically good and kind and sweet and wonderful and not well-positioned to challenge her.

Other than them, the supporting cast is mostly fodder, standing around and waiting to die. The notable exception, and the overall MVP of the film, is Paddy Considine, who, as the officer in charge of the military installation, makes the film’s most readily stereotypical character its most dynamic and interesting. It isn’t his work alone; the script has a lot of excellent ideas for the character. He’s initially presented as you’d expect: the hard-edged army guy who will do what it takes to protect his own, as well as humanity’s future; will sacrifice anyone he feels he has to in pursuit of that goal; hates the outsider protagonist for what she is; and is fated for final villain status and a bloody death at the hands of the zombies while the heroes struggle to enact a more humane solution. But this movie has the gall to actually attempt to make this character sympathetic, and the result ends up being its heart and soul. Actually, most of this movie’s arc is centered on him; it tries to invest in Melanie to the best of its ability, but by the time it decides exactly how human she is, there isn’t much room to establish the necessary character psychology. Considine’s character starts out a stereotype and then slowly peels back layers — and also changes. Prolonged exposure to Melanie challenges his perception of her as essentially being an animal that fakes humanity very well; eventually, a strange sort of rapport forms between the two, one that’s rich with condescension and mistrust but grounded in a mutual respect for one another’s dignity. In a weird way, he becomes the movie’s most relatable character, and the one through which its questions about what makes us human are most clearly expressed.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that the girl has some gifts but not quite all of them, and I’m okay with that. I’ll show myself out now.


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