The Girl with all the Gifts review – a zombie film with brains
Sennia Nanua eats the screen in thoughtful British zombie thriller The Girl with all the Gifts.
Melanie is a bright young student who’s filled with potential. She loves her teacher Miss Justineau and daydreams of saving her from all the evils of the world so that they can live together happily ever after. Melanie always says ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ and ‘good morning’ just like you’re meant to, and when it’s time for bed she always says goodnight to a little postcard of a kitten she keeps tucked under her pillow.
Melanie is polite and good and kind. Each morning she gets into her transit chair restraints all by herself when the soldiers come to take her to class. She doesn’t want to make a fuss. She wants to help.
But one morning the alarms sound and the soldiers don’t come…
The Girl with all the Gifts is the latest in a prestigious line of excellent British low to mid-budget films which serve as the Davids to Hollywood’s Goliath. With the original (wonderful) book’s author Mike Carey handling the screenplay, it’s no surprise that this thoughtful zombie thriller is such a faithful adaptation.
Readers with long memories will spot teeny-tiny alterations, but the gentle streamlining of plot serves to enhance the film, not detract from it. Junkers? Eh, who needs them. The sci-fi elements won’t be exactly how you pictured them in the book, but that’s okay, too. Their re-imagining for the big screen is cohesive and a visual treat (director Colm McCarthy of Sherlock and Peaky Blinders fame said he thought a lot about the low budget indie epic Monsters when shooting The Girl with all the Gifts). Everything looks grunge and great, underpinned by a haunting soundtrack by Cristobal Tapia de Veer (of Utopia fame).
So… we’re looking at a great story, incredibly well-received as a book, that looks and feels just right on the big screen. It even passes the Bechdel test in spades (which asks if there’s more than one woman in a movie and if they talk to each other about something other than a man. The very creation of such a test shows that this seemingly easily achievable narrative element happens less often than one might think).
Everything we most loved about the book is still there, with the narrative themes of Pandora’s Box and the nature of symbiotic and parasitic relationships firmly in place. Oh, and apart from the lovely thoughts floating around the movie like dandelion spores, there’s a bit of delightfully tasteful gore to be found, too. You can’t have gnashing Hungries (the zombies of the story) without a little bit of gore, surely. That would be wrong.
But… speaking of rights and wrongs, how about the casting? Before the film came out we voiced concerns about the casting of The Girl with all the Gifts. Now that we’ve seen it, it’s good to see a proactive, clever young girl like Melanie portrayed as black. It’s amazing to think this is 12-year-old Sennia Nanua’s first film. With a magnetic and nuanced performance, she totally eats up the screen. That’s no mean feat, considering the combined talents of such an experienced cast.
Speaking of the cast, Gemma Arterton’s Miss Justineau brims with warmth and empathy. She is so very Justineau, and it’s additionally satisfying to see her journey for survival in highly practical camo pants and pullovers, as befitting her military status and HELLO, BRITISH WEATHER. WE SEE YOU WITH YOUR WINDY COUGH AND PUFFY GREY EYES WITH LITTLE RAIN TEARS COMING OUT. WE SEE YOU.
While Arterton’s portrayal of Justineau is a touch more youthful than described in the book, older women still represent in the diverse cast. In fact, Glenn Close is frankly bloody marvellous as desperate yet focused Dr. Caldwell. It’s by no means a Manichean role with clearly delineated good/evil binary lines, and she gives it the nuance it deserves.
Mention must also be made of the ever-wonderful Paddy Considine (Sgt. Eddie Parks) who continues to be ever-wonderful, although the film adaptation sees the heat between Miss Justineau and his character turned down to absolute zero. It’s one of those little alterations from the book, which is why anyone who sees the film should strongly consider also reading the book if they haven’t already.
With mesmerising performances, an evocative setting and Hungries galore, this is a zombie thriller with brains. The book won’t spoil you for the film, and the film is an imaginative adaptation that will make you want to read the book all over again. We’d like to link to reviews from diverse voices so if you’ve done your own review or blog post and would like us to share it here, get in touch.
Tagged in: feminist films