The Girl with All the Gifts, directed by Colm McCarthy, is a film that delivers an interesting concept; one with characters who thankfully don’t play into what first seems to be some predictable rolls, and also a world that is well fleshed out and explored. There is however something missing from the film; heart. Let’s get the review underway and see how the film shapes up.
In a dystopian future, a fungal virus has spread throughout the human population, causing them to turn into Zombie-like creatures (known as the ‘hungry’ in the film). But Dr. Caroline Caldwell – played by Glenn Close – believes that the route to the cure could be within a little girl named Melanie – played by Sennia Nanua. But with the safe-haven that they once resided in being overrun, Melanie and a mixed group of survivors (some who care for Melanie, and others who deem her to be dangerous) embark on a treacherous journey through a London that is no longer safe for those who are averse to the consuming of human flesh, with the hopes of reaching somewhere that they know they will be safe.
The element that unexpectedly stood out to me immediately in the film was the sound design and the use of music; harsh, heavy and haunting. That is how I would describe the various sounds in the film. The military site that the film begins on is filled with harsh sounding things; the closing of a jail cell door, the rattle of a wheel from a table that brings tools of pain and experimentation, even the turning on of the lights was abruptly unpleasant. But there was also a heaviness to it all; gunfire, smashing windows, or a person being torn into by the ‘Hungries’. Perhaps the sound that was most resonant though, was the haunting music that would play over some of the more intensive or even the more ethereal of moments. It was music that would ease itself into a scene and then take over – it always elevated a moment and certainly always caused a chill to run down my spine.
All of these sounds were of course taking place as the film was setting up its characters and laying out the story for you. So let’s get to those important points; starting off first with the characters. The thing that gave me much relief in this film was that the characters that we follow in the film did not play out in the predictable fashion that they first seemed they would; Sgt. Eddie Parks – played by Paddy Considine – comes to mind immediately. Early on, he is someone who is cruel to Madeline for the sake of being cruel (or that’s it least how it comes off) and so I expected him to be like this for the rest of the film; always undermining Madeline, and inevitably his dislike for her would cause him to betray the group in some way – just from my watch of the trailer, this is how I expected it to play out. So you can imagine my surprise when that wasn’t the case at all. The film actually has a natural progression for the sergeant and his friendship with Madeline; instead of just playing on the clichés, the film makes the effort to build the character out in a believable and non-frustrating manner.
Speaking of Madeline, here you have a character that is fascinatingly presented; a young girl who makes the effort to be polite and welcoming to everyone she sees, but the people she sees are trained soldiers who are prepared to gun her down if she attempts to bite/eat them. This presents an interesting dichotomy within her character – to see such a sweet girl who wishes everyone a ‘good morning’ to also be someone who is required to eat living flesh, is disturbingly-endearing. It’s a good performance of a character that peaks your intrigue.
When the rest of the characters in the film are concerned, I’m happy to say that they follow the same path as Sgt Eddie Parks, in that none of them are predictably cliché. Everyone progresses in a way that was interesting to follow and never tedious to see fall apart (because of one-dimensional character traits). Now while I was happy to see the film not take the easy path with the development of its characters, I wasn’t fully satisfied with how much we got to know the people we were on this journey for survival with. We get snippets (or in one case, nothing at all) and while it didn’t harm the experience of watching the film, it did leave me wanting more by the time the ending had rolled around. You could make the argument that the films focus was its story and the journey of the characters rather than their fleshing out, which may be enough for some people, but for me, I always like a little more from my characters. What this issue resulted in was a film lacking in any meaningful payoff; there were no moments were I emotionally connected with anyone, or felt that gut-punch when a character I had spent time with died. Much like the film, I just moved onto the next scene where more of the story or the world-building was focused on.
Speaking of the story, let’s dive into what that has to offer: Overall I was happy with what I got from ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’, story-wise. Now this isn’t an extensively deep plot, things are pretty basic when you look at the whole thing from a top down view, but I feel it does a pretty decent job of keeping you engaged throughout. The only thing that I found really disappointing was the weak, anti-climactic ending (don’t worry, no spoilers). For me, after everything that had taken place, the ending fell completely flat; there was a lack of a sufficient payoff for some of the integral characters and then there were also some ambiguous conclusions for other characters. It’s a shame because I was enjoying my time in the story and the world that was being given to me, so for it to lead to nowhere of any real interest or consequence was a let-down. I also must stress that the film is just a tad too long (1 hour and 50 minutes) as it really struggles with its pacing in the final act. There was a noticeable dip in momentum, and that dip almost caused a lapse in my concentration of the film – shorten things slightly, and tighten up the story a little, and the film would have been a much more satisfying experience.
Speaking of satisfying: the last point I have to touch on is the brilliant world building that occurs in the film. From beginning to end, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ does a great job of introducing you to the dangerous world that the character live in, and then it does an even better job of expanding on it and exploring it. I never felt that things were being crammed down my throat; there was a hint of subtlety when the film was clearly stopping to explain a little more about the makeup of its new, inhospitable world, and best of all, the rules and the circumstances that it set-up had decent payoffs. It is certainly one of the films main strengths; I felt I clearly understood the world that the characters resided in and I never felt that it broke its own rules so as it could have some silly, standout moment – which isn’t always the case with films that have their own unique world that needs time to be explained.
While I wasn’t as fully fulfilled by what ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ offered up, I still left the film having enjoyed my time with it. There are things to latch onto and enjoy in this film, and there is also a great level of time and detail that has been put into fleshing out its many elements – all which go towards enveloping you more in the world of Madeline – and so I ultimately was satiated with what I got.
So I’m going to recommend ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’. A film that isn’t massively original in some of its points, but still definitely a film that is satisfying to watch.
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