Directed by Colm McCarthy
Warner Bros., on general release September 23
From the first scene, The Girl With All The Gifts makes clear that it’s going to reveal its answers slowly. Opening with children kept in underground bunkers, transported at gunpoint by clearly terrified soldiers, it’s a film that makes you ask questions and examine your assumptions throughout. Some characters are introduced in ways that make them appear incredibly unpleasant, while others are shown to be more gentle.
The less you know about The Girl With All The Gifts going in, the better. While the twists are not necessarily shocking, the emotional quality of the film relies on you not knowing too many of the outcomes. This dystopian world rewards questions and emotional ambiguities throughout.
While it doesn’t necessarily do anything completely new, it does it in a way that makes you remember just how good Britain can be at producing intelligent, thought-provoking genre films. While the setup is reminiscent of a few post-apocalyptic films, the one with which it draws the closest comparisons is Children of Men. Like that, it may not be the box-office hit that would be nice to see, but it’s likely to be well-received, especially by critics.
The acting is strong throughout. Glenn Close clearly relishes the opportunity to play the kind of part she likely wishes she got offered more often, mixing authority and intelligence with a pragmatism bordering on cold-hearted, but punctuated with despair. Paddy Considine brings a lot of anger to a role that appears one-dimensional at first, but gets more complex and interesting as it goes on. Gemma Arterton is likeable and well-cast as the maternal teacher, dealing with a lot of the more overt emotion smoothly (although there are likely to be column inches concentrating more on the braveness of her and Close performing characters that don’t wear makeup).
But the stand-out is the young newcomer, Sennia Nanua, who plays Melanie, the girl in the title. Bringing together an intelligent politeness and an ability to play disconcerting scenes with absolutely no trouble, there aren’t many 12 year olds that get the chance to share screen-time with actors of this calibre. And it’s to her credit that in scenes where she’s in scenes with Glenn Close, you’re likely to be watching Sennia.
Obviously, this is also to the credit of director Colm McCarthy and writer Mike Carey (who actually wrote the screenplay before he wrote the novel of the same name). While the film moves slowly at times, it’s punctuated with impressive special effects and unusual visuals. While the ‘hungries’ (the monsters that appear throughout the film) share a lot in common with similar movies, there are also scenes that are genuinely eerie and tense. In The Girl With All The Gifts, the scenes of calm are actually the most memorable.
It’s not perfect. Some of the hungries’ makeup doesn’t quite convince, and at times, it feels a little ‘BBC’ in production. But, that said, there are scenes and visuals that are poetically beautiful – a rarity in horror.
Verdict: This is an intelligent, emotional and at times beautiful film, with some good performances and some great ones. It’s well made, well written and is likely to play very well with audiences and critics. Britain should really be making more films like this, because it turns out that we’re really quite good at it. 8/10