My first (and only) reaction in our private little WhatsApp-group after the screening of “The Girl with All the Gifts” was posting the “happy Picard”-meme, since that’s exactly how I felt. Granted, post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian movies like that are exactly my kind of thing, so you could say that I was predisposed to liking it. Nevertheless, it was the first movie at this year’s /slash filmfestival to really – and fully – enthrall me.
I usually don’t go that much into the story of the movies that I review for this blog anyway, but in this case, I consciously make it a point not to do so. I went into the movie completely blank, and one of the joys of watching it is to slowly figure out what’s going on here, and to learn more about this world, its characters, and their background. Where other movies spoon-feed their audience, Mike Carey (who adapted his own novel) and Colm McCarthy trust their viewers enough to figure it out for themselves, with bits and pieces of information that they spill out over the course of the movie. Very little is spelled out directly, and if it is, it always feels organic. Without any setup or background information, we’re thrown into this story, which then gradually reveals itself to us (which, admittedly, demands some patience). I also loved the setting, as well as the story, and how it progressed. One would think that with countless movies and TV-shows that tackle zombies, there wouldn’t be any more fresh and original ideas left, but time and again, certain genre-movies – like “The Girl with All the Gifts” – prove me wrong in that regard. Granted, you’ll find bits and pieces of varied previous zombie-flicks in here (especially a heavy dose of “28 Days Later”, mostly due to the frantic hungries, the military base, and the setting in the UK), but also a lot of ideas that were quite fresh and original, at least to my knowledge.
It’s not just the story, though. TV-veteran Colm McCarthy does wonders with a surprisingly small budget, and offers a couple of awe-inspiring and hauntingly beautiful shots (like the finale). I especially loved the impression of nature slowly winning back the city (reminiscent of – among others – “I am Legend”). And as a fan of seemingly long takes, one particular moment during the hungry-attack on the base truly impressed me. The cast is also excellent. Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine and Fisayo Akinade are all great, but the most impressive performance comes from newcomer Sennia Nanua, who perfectly captures the varied – and often conflicting – sides of her character. The score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is also great, and always finds the exact right note to enhance the emotions of a certain scene. Which brings us to its last bit strength: This zombie apocalypse doesn’t only offer some tense moments and a heavy dose of social commentary and moral ambiguity, but also pulls at our heartstrings, with quite a few emotional scenes throughout. Granted, there’s the occasional scene where our protagonists were very lucky (like in the one where they find themselves in a field of hungries, and instead of them all waking up, they are only hunted by just enough of them to make their escape possible) or rather dumb (take Kieran in the warehouse, for example), but those are insignificant and negligible trifles.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” is one of this year’s true cinematic gifts, and should not be missed by anyone even remotely interested in the genre.