Review – The Girl with all the Gifts

How do you like the sound of a “British, indie, girl/zombie, coming of age drama-horror flick” ?

Box office wise, in late September 2016, Bridget Jones was the girl with all the gifts… this is quite, quite different. More 28 Days Later, than 27 Dresses, tough, gritty, provocative British film-making. An unrelenting genre piece that mutters no apology for making you uncomfortable. It demands that you think and scrutinise on the morality of the cold, harsh dilemma that the story plunges us into.

So we are in post apocalyptic Britain. The army are trying to contain an outbreak that has turned most people into zombies. We have the uncompromising Paddy Considine on military lead, Glenn Close takes the medical “can science save man” lead, and Gemma Arterton, the empathic soldier, with a vocation to tutor and care for the youngest captives who are not yet full zombie… Tortured, captured, captive children who we soon realise are as lethal as the full blooded zombies, who rule outside of the comfort of their safe and sanitised base.

Amongst these captive children we have the startlingly brilliant Sennia Nanua in the central role. Her personality and position expertly unfolds as we are given breadcrumbs to follow and learn of who she is and what she thinks.
This is a desperate, cold and stark setting, bringing far from the best out of anyone. Only Arterton representing a grounded and moral compass. We are toyed with in our growing understanding of the harsh reality of the situation this apocalypse presents – oppressive, threatening, primal…

Although cemented in the zombie genre, The Girl With All The Gifts has both indie and art-house credentials. Although a very different film, this is reminiscent of the recent Ex-Machina, which will touch on again shortly.

The film poses a challenge so different to most releases out there at the moment, this made it past 2 weeks at a multiplex, rare for a film like this… Bold, challenging and experimental story telling, but it does cover ground we have seen before. It retains it’s own signature and it does bring something new to the table for this genre. It’s greatest achievement is our pivotal lead – Sennia.

So there is much to admire, but there are some painful moments of product placement, alongside the grating morality and violence we are witness to.
Apparently zombies really like to do their undead window shopping at Next. This and other brand drops are clunkily obvious, clearly this is a British indie film that had to work hard to get some financial backing to achieve get it onto the big screen. So maybe we need to be tolerant of this as it helped achieve that green light.

There are a cocktail of beautifully realised visuals that capture the humanity, or indeed the erosion of humanity, mixed in with more familiar moments of anticipated shock, gore, and dispatching of members of the cast.

Less predictable is the character arc of the always magnetic Sennia, and the ending we fight with the cast to get to.

Going back to Ex-Machina, this was similarly different to the norm – clever, good casting, and edgy. Both these films left me admiring much that is on show, but wanting more emotional investment in the narrative. Both critically acclaimed by many, and certainly worthy of attention. Both left me too cold, and without a fulfilling sense of connection and personal closure. Of course this could well have been the choice stylistically and dramatically from the writer and director, I just prefer a more rounded and tangental end point.

This is a brave, ambitious and creative endeavour that if I haven’t put you off yet, and you like a challenge, you should consider THIS girl, as well as Bridget.

7/10 – Jez Gibson

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