Thursday 15 September 2016

The Girl With All The Gifts

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The Girl With All The Gifts
2016 UK/USA Directed by Colm McCarthy
UK cinema release print.

Wow. This is amazing. It’s rare that a movie quite lives up to the intrigue and power of the way the trailer for the release has been cut and, since The Girl With All The Gifts had such a wonderfully intriguing trailer, I was expecting something quite good from it, to be sure but... nowhere near the powerful cinematic experience that this film delivers on pretty much every level.

I’ll start of with what is becoming an increasingly frequent caveat in regards to a lot of book to film adaptations recently, to my shame. This film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by M. R. Carey and, alas, it’s not one I’ve read. I can’t, therefore, tell you how successful it is in terms of translating the source but I do know that, despite the novel and the screenplay being written kind of simultaneously (is my understanding of it), there are some elements from the book which didn’t make it into the movie and, also, the physical descriptions of some of the characters are way off.

That being said, and as I’ve mentioned many times before on here, movies aren’t books and adaptation from one format or another means making artistic choices which can benefit one medium at the expense of elements of the other and... this one is no different, I’m guessing.

What I do know for sure, and without giving away any spoilers, is that we have a British zombie movie which, while the writer and director disown the term ‘zombies’, instead going for the term ‘hungries’, is one of the best post-Romero zombie movies around and stands head and shoulders with other modern classics of ‘infected, zombie like’ creatures as the films in the [oREC] and 28 Later series. Whether the humans have died and come back or, in the case of some of these pseudo-zombie films, had their humanity and higher intelligence killed off by the virus to effectively create the same thing, is kind of a moot point in terms of this cultural phenomenon which started, as far as I can remember, in the early 19th Century.

The film introduces us to Melanie (played by Sennia Nanua) and, indeed, takes her viewpoint during the whole running time. She is one of a bunch of children who share the same... shall we say ‘eating habits’... as the ‘hungries’ that the last pockets of humanity are trying to keep at bay and find a cure for. I won’t give you the full history of how and why these children exist because it’s got a classic horror twist and it’s a nice moment when Doctor Cladwell (played by Glenn Close) reveals this history to Melanie. The film centres around the child, her adoration for her teacher Miss Justineau (played by Gemma Arteton) and her role within a group of survivors of an attack on their base camp including Caldwell, Justineau, Sgt. Eddie Parks (played by Paddy Considine) and Dillon (played by Anthony Welsh).

It’s very much a road movie as the small group try to find their way to some kind of safety and, all the while, with the exception of Miss Justineau, they are as much afraid of Melanie, as they are of the ‘hungries’ who they spend so much of their time trying to avoid contact with. Like most good zombie movies, and I don’t know if this is also true of the book, we never really know the details of the apocalyptic virus and how it first started but, having plunged us right into this world, the Doctor (and the writer) does have a good idea of the life cycle of the virus and, by the time we get to the last third of the movie, it becomes a key thing to understand the way the story evolves... not necessarily taking you to the place you’re kind of expecting it to in the same way you thought it would. Not quite, anyway... although the ending is quite familiar but also so much more than you would normally get from this kind of movie. It’s a good ‘un but, again, in the interests of not spoiling this for anybody... I’ll keep that to myself. I think John Wyndham would have loved this movie, though.

As you would expect from a film with a cast like this, there is some absolutely powerhouse acting going on. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for both Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine and, as you would expect, they totally knock it out of the park and are ably supported by Anthony Welsh. Glenn Close, on the other hand, is an actress I’ve never really liked all that much. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an absolutely incredible performer and you can’t fault her work... but she’s never really appealed to me. However, having said that, I think she’s got a real great role here which is perfect for her as a kind of ‘almost but not quite, depending on your moral point of view villain’ in the form of Dr. Caldwell and, yeah, she owns the role totally.

And then we have Sennia Nanua’s central performance as Melanie.

What can I say? I don’t know where they get some of these child actors from but some of them are amazing and, surrounded by some interesting and incredible child co-stars for certain scenes, Nanau manages to deliver an absolutely gobsmacking performance filled with all the subtlety and nuance that you might expect from someone three times her age (whatever that is, there seems to be no information present about that at time of writing this). Given that it’s a movie that someone her age presumably wouldn’t be allowed to legally see in this country, she does wonders here eating and biting her bloody way through various life forms and I can only applaud her performance whole heartedly.

Saying that, it’s not a very scary movie, at least in terms of the expected jump scares that a modern ‘horror film’ might be expected to supply. As far as I’m concerned, however, that just cements the link between this movie and the wealth of zombie movies which have come before. Aside from, maybe, the [oREC] series, which is genuinely scary for the first two outings, this takes its cue from the traditional zombie ‘survival horror’ strand of cinema and it does it very well... with a visceral suspense that slowly builds throughout the movie to its, really very satisfying, conclusion.

And then there’s the music. Oh, I wish there was a CD release of this thing already because the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is almost overwhelming in its power and raw beauty and, for a change, it’s been mixed right into the foreground so the movie gets an amazing lift of emotional, brain churning intensity. The opening sequence, for example, is very good but it really gets a sense of rising dread infused into it by the slowly building chanting and humming that plays out throughout certain passages of the movie, sometimes with metallic percussion at points. It’s really a magnificent work and it would be a major crime against filmanity, not to mention musicology, if this remains unreleased on CD. Hopefully some smart record label will try and pick this one up.

And that’s about it as far as The Girl With All The Gifts is concerned. An all round major achievement of intense suspense, zombie mayhem, some very sly and dark humour (the audience I was with were very appreciative of a certain line about whether Melanie would like a cat) and, right near the end, a moral question about the nature of a life form which, when finally answered, seals the fate of the world. An absolutely blistering and brilliant piece of cinematic art and absolutely one to run to as quickly as you can if you’re a fan of zombie movies. A real gem which I will be telling everyone about.

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