Movie Review: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

When I read M.R. Carey’s novel The Girl with All the Gifts I was aware that the movie rights for the book had been optioned, but since I heard nothing further about the project, I thought it had been abandoned as it’s bound to happen sometimes: imagine then my surprise when I discovered that a movie was indeed filmed in 2016.  I have no way of knowing whether the movie was a direct-to-DVD production or more simply it skipped the theatre run in my part of the world: what matters is that I was recently able to see and appreciate the filmed version of this amazing story.

The premise might seem taken out of a classic horror scenario: a fungal infection taking possession of the victims’ cognitive faculties turns them into ravenous zombies, and the few survivors live in military enclaves surrounded by the hordes of the “hungries”.  In one of such besieged areas, a group of children is used as test subjects to find a cure for the infection: they were all born after the spread of the disease and, while affected like the rest o humanity, they retain both intelligence and rationality.  These children represent the next stage, or the new humans, but for Dr. Caldwell (a chillingly efficient Glen Close) they are nothing but specimens, to be used in the search for a cure, and likewise the military personnel treat them like unthinking animals, unmoved by some of the children’s continuing demonstrations of intellect and empathy.  The only person on the base ready to see the humanity beyond the danger is the teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), whose special pupil is Melanie (portrayed with amazing skill by emergent Sennia Nanua), narrating voice of the inspiring book.

Like the novel, the movie leaves little space to the zombie-like hordes roaming the Earth, and concentrates instead on the psychology of the characters, going beyond the somewhat limited focus of book-Melanie’s observations to delve deeper into the other characters: Sergeant Parks, the rough-mannered soldier trying to keep them all alive after the base has been overrun by hungries, the most vocal about the need to keep Melanie constrained like the dangerous animal he sees in her; Doctor Caldwell, whose “the end justifies the means” attitude allows her to conveniently forget that she’s killing children to save a doomed humanity, that they are alive and possess feelings – something she is unwilling to accept; and Miss Justineau, who enjoys teaching her young charges and is too happy to read them tales from the classical myths instead of instructing them in math or chemistry.

And a Greek myth is indeed at the core of this story, that of Pandora who set free all the afflictions contained in the proverbial box, but ended her act by also freeing hope as a parting gift: hope is indeed what remains for a beleaguered humanity in this post-apocalyptic world – not the hope of being saved by some miracle cure, but the hope represented by the next generation, the children who will inherit the changed Earth. It’s not exactly a comforting scenario but it’s definitely better than the usual total-annihilation solution that so many offerings of the genre portray.

What makes the movie – and the book – quite special is Melanie’s voice, given life on the screen by an emerging performer whose amazing talent gives the lie to her young age: Sennia Nanua shows Melanie’s transition from the initial secluded innocence to the awareness of who and what she is with remarkable skill, managing the coexistence of the helpful child – able to navigate unscathed the dangers of the changed world – with the feral creature who needs to feed on living flesh, or the merciless fighter battling against the wild children of the city to defend the adults who find themselves suddenly in need of her protection.    The visuals are quite stunning as well, not so much because of any special effects (the movie does not possess the feel of the huge, money-heavy production) but because it’s able to create the right atmosphere with the abandoned buildings chocked by fungal growths and peopled by unmoving hungrier waiting for a sign of life to jump into murderous activity.

The soundtrack deserves a special mention as well, since it mostly consists of human voices raised in a wail-like song that seems like a lament for the end of the world: it’s eerie and terrifying and it complements to perfection the images rolling on the screen.

The Girl with All the Gifts is not exactly an uplifting movie, and neither was the book that inspired it, but if offers so much inspiration for thought, as a window on the human soul, that I can heartily recommend it.

My Rating:


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Posted on March 21, 2017, in Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I seem to remember this coming out in theatres – BRIEFLY. And then it kind of disappeared. I’m so curious about it, and it’s good to read a positive review. Usually movie versions don’t quite work, but it sounds like this one got it right. Wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      It was a good “translation” from the book, especially since it focused more on the psychology of the characters and less on the action (or the blood&gore you might expect in this kind of story). If you enjoyed the book, the movie will not disappoint 🙂

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  2. When I first learned about this movie, I hadn’t known it was going to be a straight to video release either (though like Tammy said, I seem to recall seeing theater times listed, at least here in the US…but they could have changed their minds about a theater run or it might just have been very brief.) Anyway, I loved, loved, loved the book. I am seeing mixed reviews when it comes to how faithful the movie is as an adaption, but hey at least I’m glad to hear they got the dreariness down 🙂

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    • Of course the movie cannot delve too deeply into the characters, being a totally different medium, but I thought they managed to convey Melanie’s narrative arc quite well. My only complaint was that the last scene, while mirroring the book’s end, was a little too… stretched out: if they had closed a few frames before, it would have been perfect 🙂

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  3. Christy Luis

    Another zombie story for you- and a good one, it sounds like. I wasn’t book blogging at the time this book was released, and I never jumped on reading it for some reason. But having read your review and seeing that it was released from Orbit makes me think I should remedy that…thanks for the great movie review 😀

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  4. I loved the book and was delighted to love the film – I managed to see a special preview where Carey, the director, the producer and the principal cast all came along and did an interview before the film, which was brilliant. The thing I was most surprised to learn (but it makes a lot of sense when you know both versions) is that this isn’t technically the film of the book. It started out as a script, but Carey loved the story so he developed it as a book in parallel and that came out first. It explains why they’re so close in feel – the author was hands-on with the movie – but of course there are differences that play to the way you’re experiencing it. He’s clearly very fond of both versions, which is delightful.

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    • That’s fascinating, I didn’t know about the parallel “growth” of book and movie script.
      It’s a good thing that the author was able to have his say on the realization of the movie: sometimes that’s a road filled with brambles and potholes… But since this movie was not one of those big productions more interested in explosions and gore, it turned out quite well, indeed.

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  5. You’ve got me interested in reading the book! I’m going to take a break from my academic studies and give this one a go…thank you for coloring the void with your wonderful geekiness 🙂 Much appreciated!

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  6. I thought the film was good, I preferred the book, but I thought it translated well to screen. For me, I didn’t feel as much the relationship between Miss Justineau and Melanie, something wasn’t quite there in the feeling somehow but not something I can put my finger on. A very entertaining film though – with some chilling scenes and I thought Glenn Close played a blinder.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Ms. Justineau’s commitment to her young charges – and Melanie in particular – is somewhat watered down in the movie, leaving more space to Melanie’s journey of understanding and growth. And that sequence in the shopping mall, with the “frozen” hungries waiting to be wakened… that was blood-curling!

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  7. I loved this film! It had such heart to it. I struggle at times with the zombie-type genre but this film looked and felt so different in the best way. I agree with your ‘character study’ description, it did feel like that. I could of watched the characters on screen for longer, the film felt very short – which I guess is a good thing ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both book and movie do indeed tackle the zombie trope in a very different, and quite unexpected way, so I understand perfectly your fascination with the movie. Let’s hope they also turn the second book into a big screen production…. 🙂

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