The Girl With All The Gifts (2016): Body Horror Review Series Chapter 3

Greetings from Ulthar,

In the 21st century, one genre has truly stood out in popularity, consistently finding mainstream success.  From shows like The Walking Dead (2010) to films like 28 Days Later (2002), there has been no shortage of undead success in Hollywood and the box office.  However, many forget that the genre of body horror found many of its roots in old zombie films, dating back to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), and other foreign films like Zombie (1979).  The grotesque nature of undead creatures, rotting and decaying as they seek human flesh for sustenance, are the pillars of body horror.  With the over fluctuation and butchering of the genre by mainstream Hollywood, it is hard to remember that once upon a time, there was a standard in quality for the genre.  A standard that hasn’t been met in some time, not until 2016, when audiences were offered the visceral and innovative film, The Girl with All the Gifts.  Based on the bestselling novel by M.R. Carey, the film did not disappoint even with such high expectations.

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IMDB Plot Description: 

A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.

Starring:  Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, and Glenn Close

Written by: Mike Carey

Directed by: Colm McCarthy

REVIEW:

The Girl with All the Gifts succeeds in many ways as a dystopian, science fiction/horror film.  It is very easy for scripts or plots to become bogged down with tropes within the undead genres, creating scenarios and characters that have become predictable with their behaviors and decisions.  In the vane of 28 Days LaterThe Girl with All the Gifts does its best to hone in on the characters and their individual desires and ambitions.  Accompany this with atmospheres reminiscent of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and you have a film that is more than worth watching.

On Structure: The film follows a linear structure that is patient with the development of its universe.  Information is not shot out all at once into the audience’s minds, but rather meticulously shown and explored through interesting scenarios.  We are given the background of the characters and the hungries–as they are called–with a pace that takes its time and avoids cliched tropes.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film happens to be the environment shown in the beginning within a bunker, where the young children, who are second generation zombies, are raised and conditioned by paramilitary soldiers and scientists.  It was fascinating to see a sort of domestication with these beings, creating a resounding sympathy for the children.

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On Writing: The Girl with All the Gifts does a fantastic job of pulling at our heart strings and making us question our own sense of morality.  When does science cross the line and become evil?  What would a species do for self-preservation?  What is the definition of human?  What if evolution meant for mankind to end?  All of these questions are asked throughout the duration of the film, making for an intriguing atmosphere that illuminates something that recent undead films have forgotten: the essence of the human condition.  Melanie is a character that we can get behind, her teacher Ms. Justineau also very relatable.  The dialogue is rarely ever overbearing and the concepts tackled by author and screenwriter M.R. Carey, are fantastically done.  Every character could have easily fallen into archetype traps, but eventually each person is fleshed out in a satisfying way.  The film also delves into the concept of the undead pathogen being fungal, something we have rarely seen.  There are aspects of this fungal pathogen and its effects on victims, that will remind well-versed horror readers of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy.  The combination of Weird Fiction, Horror, and the zombie genre, meld together into an enrapturing horror film that stands on its own rather than mimicking the undead films of old.

On Cinematography: With 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later (2007), the films presented stark differences between each other.  Yet they both maintained a certain wide, meticulous, and anxious scope of cinematography.  Spiraling camera techniques, wide-shot angles, long pans of wilderness, close-ups of the characters in distress, etc., are part of what made those films so intense and suspenseful.  The Girl with All the Gifts borrows inspiration from these classic zombie films, using frenetic direction and beautiful wide pans to create an unbalanced equilibrium between madness and majesty.  Films with lower budgets also have a difficulty in creating massive CGI spectacles, opting instead to refrain from any aspect of the film that would require such expenses.  This can be seen especially in 28 Days Later, which used little-to-no CGI whatsoever during its rather long run time.  The few moments that The Girl with All the Gifts chooses to use CGI, are always of excellent quality.  Most specifically, when the tower of spores is revealed.  The desolate landscape and overgrown cities during the film also lend inspiration from I Am Legend (2007), showing us the effects of overgrowth in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world.

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On Effects: One of the well-executed concepts that really makes this film stand out is its interpretation of the undead.  Instead of a flesh-rotting, decaying virus, we have a fungal pathogen that literally turns the afflicted into plants.  It was interesting to see a fresh breath of air with this addition to the genre, as opposed to the usual virus that we see in such films.  The prosthetics and makeup used in the film are very believable, and in other scenes–like when we first see the tower of spores–there are hungries who have become parts of a tree-like formation, the effects in these scenes very interesting and practical.  The few scenarios where Melanie eats live creatures are handled in a way that feels authentic and quite frightening.  There are a few scenes where the CGI blood is very obvious, but for the most part, all effects are used in a patient and focused manner.

CONCLUSION:

While not without flaws, The Girl with All the Gifts stands on its own as one of the greater undead horror films in recent memory.  The classic body horror themes are present, though executed in fresh, reinvigorating ways.  The characters are not hollow, many becoming more fleshed out as the film progresses.  Cinematography is beautiful and the writing is patient.  The film keeps us interested and hopeful with its introspective questions and existential philosophies.  In the vane of 28 Days Later and I Am LegendThe Girl with All the Gifts brings a much needed revitalization into the zombie horror genre, maintaining a respectable level of quality and also portraying an inventive script in an innovative way.

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RATING: 4/5 STARS

(This review is brought to you by the hope that you will explore our submissions call for our 2017 Body Horror Anthology. And on the topic of body horror, check out our Quick History of Body Horror Cinema article.)

Don’t forget to visit our submissions page for our Body Horror Anthology. And if you wanted to learn more about body horror, check out our Body Horror Cinema article. This is the third part in a series, celebrating body horror as we lead up to our anthology in November.

Thank you so much for stopping by. Do you agree with this review? Disagree? Any suggestions or corrections? Please let us know, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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