Monday 19 September 2016

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts
Cert: 15 / 111 mins / Dir. Colm McCarthy / Trailer

Oh, it's that kind of Zombie-flick, I see. When it's not poking adoring-fun at the genre*1, British cinema has a tendency not only to slightly over-egg the claustrophobia in a living-dead scenario, but also to avoid using the Z-word altogether (which can easily come off as a sort of snobbishness). Y'see, for all the BFI funding, arty posters, delicate cinematography and complete lack of the aforementioned word in the script, The Girl With All The Gifts*2 is a zombie movie. And is all the better for that.

Not wanting to jump right onto the pre-established bandwagon, the infection-vehicle in this movie is a fungus which infects the brain leading to an almost complete shut-down other than ravenous hunger for anything which is alive and uninfected. But it's still spread by bites, blood and bogeys though, and the end result is the same: shambling in stand-by mode, feral and desperate when they get a whiff of fresh meat, and anything other than a heat-shot will only slow them down. The film takes place after the initial plague of society-rending infection has occurred, with the remains of humanity hiding in bunkers frantically searching for a cure. A potential avenue seems to be a generation of children born after the outbreak, who exhibit the uncontrollable craving for human flesh when they're within nose-shot of it, but appear normal in all other situations. By applying blocker gel to mask their scent, a research team tests and educates one particular group in a fortified military base outside of London, keeping them in borderline barbaric conditions (it's not the fact that they're secured in wheelchairs during lessons which evokes notes of Guantanamo, but that they're forced to wear Crocs). When the undead hordes breach the base's defences, a small group of survivors treks toward the capital in search of civilisation, reinforcement and hope…

From the outset, the film waves its symbolism-flag proudly (if slightly heavy-handedly). Mike Carey has adapted his own novel for the screen, which is always preferable, but some of the story's more delicate points feel hammered home a little, especially in the third act. Sennia Nanua is great as Melanie, the eponymous Girl, while Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton walk a delicate line between dour-drama and camp-action-movie. But it's Glenn Close who gets to do most of the heavy-lifting in delivering exposition to the audience (her role as the chief scientist researching a vaccine makes this natural at first, but by act-three you know that every time she opens her mouth it's so that the film doesn't have to show something).

In fact, from the cast to the cinematography, to the percussive score and to Colm McCarthy's tense direction, everyone seems very committed to the project. You just get the feeling they were shooting a slightly better film than the one that came out of the editing suite, somehow. I can't work out if the story runs out of steam or just paints itself into a corner. More details are crammed into the life-cycle of the virus, but at a time when we're more concerned with the characters. By the time we reach the crescendo, all the foreshadowed circles are closed neatly enough, but the film is running rigidly on its rails. Never clichéd exactly, but there are fewer surprises in the screenplay the further along it goes, and the conclusion feels far less convincing than the premise*3.

If The Girl With All The Gifts film had kept to the symbolic and philosophical path, I think I'd have enjoyed it more. The film is a valiant effort as it stands, but seems to be happy being a a slightly run-of-the-mill apocalyptic thriller when it could be so much more…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The film's closest spiritual relative is probably 28 Days Later, although there are splashes of Dog Soldiers and even Never Let Me Go in there, too.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the immersiveness of the cinematography, maybe, but you won't lose too much by watching this at home.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it probably does; but the question is, is that enough?.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not best but solid, certainly.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Daniel Eghan. He plays a soldier in this movie, and he's due to appear in Rogue One this December as a militiaman. Me neither, I'm afraid. Sorry Daniel.

Obviously I only know this from IMDB. That's how I research most of these, but when you get an extra and/or bit-part actor, it really underlines it, I know. Anyway, it's still more satisfying than the Level 2 connection of Glenn Close appearing in Guardians Of The Galaxy alongside Peter 'voice-of-Maul' Serafinowicz. Level 1s are just better, trust me.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Or even just the times when British cinema thinks it's poking adoring-fun, but is actually just failing spectacularly on every level.

2 And can I be among the first to say how nice it is to see that The Girl has ended her dangerous pursuits of Playing With Fire and Kicking Hornets Nests, and is now doing nothing more dangerous than coming home after a long afternoon's Christmas shopping…

…and while you may well groan and place bets on that joke being recycled from Twitter, it was nevertheless recycled from my own Twitter-feed, at least.
I thank you.

*3 SPOILERY questions for those of you who've seen the film (highlight-to-read):
1) While it's a ghoulish picture that Caldwell paints about the second-gen zombies 'eating their way out' of their mothers, how would foetuses be able to do that when babies don't start teething until about three months after they're born? Plus it'd take them ages to get out of there, how would they breathe once the host is dead and all circulation of blood and amniotic fluid has stopped? Hey, don't look at me, I'm not the one who decided to throw biology into the screenplay...
2)Not withstanding that the pack of feral children seem to have learned to feed, walk and generally support themselves with precisely no outside guidance (a newborn cub will die on its own, instincts or not), surely by the time they're herded together to start learning as the credits roll, all the behavioural bad-habits are burned-in? The kids in the research centre had been 'rescued' at a younger age and raised more like regular humans; this lot are rolling around the floor in their own shit…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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