3 out of 5
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Continuing my trend of not really getting the outright praise received by certain indie horror flicks (see: The Witch, It Follows), Girl With All the Gifts arrived with rounds of appreciation for its refreshing take on the zombie genre but failed to resonate much with me.
I would note that I’ve never been much of a fan of the comic book work of writer Mike Carey – the writer for the movie, which he scripted alongside a novel of the same – but that I wasn’t aware that he was the billed ‘M. R. Carey’ until I looked it up later, so that bias didn’t influence my feelings toward the film. In retrospect, though, my issue with Mike’s comic stuff is that, despite having a wealth of ideas, it always comes across as rather matter-of-fact in his presentation – it’s interesting, but rarely engaging – and that’s exactly how I felt about this film.
But some aspects of the praise I do certainly agree with: The production, without being too flashy, is perfect. Yes, this is another ‘post zombie’ world – called ‘hungries’ in the film’s parlance and explained as a brain-dwelling fungus – but the visuals take their cues from the videogame The Last of Us (…and some plot aspects, given that it was a fungus there as well), showing us a world that isn’t exactly in dissaray, moreso unattended; left to what might be twisted as a natural order of things. Shops and streets are empty and dust / rust covered, however, we’re not seeing the results of humanity’s ramshackle response (a la The Walking Dead or Romero’s take on things): We’re seeing nature slowly take back over, with green growth in full flourish and scaling our man-made walls. Its a much more believable and lived-in design, smartly captured by director Colm McCarthy without any obvious and obnoxious color filters, and I’d say it helps our actors get their footing and make their characters feel lived in as well. Which is the second plus: That while the script, overall, felt lacking in punch, the way it takes the tropes – the clinical scientist (Glenn Close); the rigid military protector (Paddy Considine); the sympathizer (Gemma Arterton) – and smooths them out into more realistic versions of those roles humanizes the movie immensely. The actors are to be praised equally for that, of course, but regardless, this might be the first zombie flick where I was more invested in the characters than the who / what / why of the plot.
Which makes the central hook – the titular girl, Melaine (Sennia Nanua), a ‘second generation’ hungry who seems to have better control over her zombie impulses and is thus a prime candidate for dissection for a cure – a troubling aspect to hang the movie on, as her character and her growth in this world are interesting, but if the way the story of that world is told is not, then it makes her actions – and those around her – feel unmotivated and hollow.
Or at least that’s how it was for me.
Moreso than the other underground hit flicks I mentioned, I dug that Girl With All the Gifts arrived without pretense. It doesn’t present itself as the scariest thing ever, or mutter whispered dialogue that’s supposed to make us consider it on some deeper level. It moves forward – rightfully – in confidence with its look and cast, and that’s enough to earn its screen time. But by playing up some pieces more or less, perhaps the film could better embrace its format and actually keep us intrigued, not just watching.