Director: Colm McCarthy
Writer: Mike Carey
Verdict: You should see it
I suppose it’s only apropraite that from such a huge horror fan, my first review of a current release would be a horror film written on 1st October. Hm, how cliche. This film however is anything but.
It was hard to decide how to open my review of The Girl With The Dragon… wait no, The Girl with All the Gifts, hereby to be referred to as TGWATG because typing is work I don’t care if I do this for free. The reason it was hard to decide how to begin it was because there’s so much to talk about with TGWATG, (see it works so smoothly). First off can I just say, leave it to the British to make a proper young-adult film. Young adult doesn’t mean 12 year-olds editor’s of The Hunger Games, zombies are actually meant to be fucking terrifying, not a gimmick, producers of The Scorch Trials. If one was to look at the back catalogue of director Colm McCarthy, the researcher would see a menagerie of high quality, visually interesting, and otherwise interesting television, such Hustle, Spooks, Ripper Street, Doctor Who, Endeavour, Sherlock, and my favourite series of Peaky Blinders. Indeed, he’s set to go back to television, currently working on the pre-production for made-for-tv Superman flick Krypton. Infact he seems like the perfect choice, the issue with later day superman movies has been that they fundamentally havn’t understood how to properly use the character’s it’s dealing with whilst aping after previous iterations. Now if there’s one thing I can say about TGWATG it’s that it understands the history of the sub-genre of zombie flicks whilst also doing something fresh, new, and exciting with it.
The film starts with a very striking sequence of our teenage main character, in some militaristic, metallic, and sickly green chamber being woken up, then proceeding to restrain herself, before being taken to a lesson in which she says, “but there isn’t anything bad here”. To say anything more about the plot would definitely be a spoiler.
I went in actually with quite low expectations. Ever since Let the Right One In, we’ve seen a slew of lesser movies trying to do the same thing of taking a horror monster and making a drama about them, like Maggie, and TGWATG had all the hallmarks of one of those. I mean, all the best horror movies of latter days like The Babadook or It Follows are also dramas, they entice you in with dark character development so that you identify with them properly, and this film is luckily of that ilk, maybe not of that quality, but definitely of that type of movie, not the former type.
The film is impeccably directed, most of the film takes place amongst green, red is on the other end of the colour wheel so blood really takes on a striking quality and fills out a rich colour palate. The director takes full advantage of this, with an orange jumper, or red doors, drawing your eyes to the important things. Speaking of blood, there’s actually a lot of proper body horror here, I mean zombies themselves I feel come from the body horror tradition of Videodrome, The Fly, or The Thing, but it doesn’t shy away from the realities of the situation in the way that the first The Hunger Games did. These effects are all done, for the most part, in camera with practical effects without cuts, and this isn’t for style I think, it’s to sell the moment. The biggest example is the climax to the first and best act which has one of the most exciting and riveting long take set pieces I’ve seen for a while, like it does one, and then immediately one ups it. It’s not style for style’s sake, these long takes are there so that you can see everything and believe it’s happening and it’s great, I love it.
Now this is definitely not perfect. The score is really interesting, I liked it for the first 5 minutes, actually I loved it for the first 5 minutes, after which it got a bit irritating. The first act is by far the best and although the other two have their moments the horror elements take a back seat and it rides dangerously closely to a Maggie type thing, and the ending left a bad taste in my mouth, it might be meant to leave a bad taste, or the filmmakers might actually believe this is a proper resolution. There are clues that the filmmakers know but it’s ambiguous and I can’t tell if I like that or not. I mean the filmmakers would probably love that I’ve had this reaction to the ending, but it just irritated me a tad.
The acting is lovely, Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction), Paddy Considine (Peaky Blinders, Macbeth, The World’s End), who I love, and the lead, Sennia Nanua, are all very good but can sometimes come across as a bit stock character. However, the real gem in the film is Gemma Arterton who up until now is best known for schlock like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Clash of the Titans, and Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig’s worst Bond movie, now I love me some schlock but like good schlock if such a thing exists. However, in this film, she is quite outstanding, has an air of the Emily Mortimer, (Hugo, The Newsroom) about her, she owns the screen whevever she’s on it but not by cutting an imposing figure, it’s through just being really really real.
The Girl With All The Gifts (give me a break about the acronym thing it’s the conclusion) is an exciting step forward for the zombie sub genre and sets Colm McCarthey up perfectly to take his place amongst the league of great film directors who rose from impressive TV work like Ken Loach, (Kes, I, Daniel Blake, The Wind That Shakes the Barley), and Ben Wheatley, (Kill List, Sightseers, High-Rise), who actually also in his career made some episodes of Doctor Who. It’s really worth checking out if anything just so studios who seem obsessed with profit can see the success of an actual young adult Young Adult film.