Saturday, February 11, 2017

Victoria Film Festival '17 The Girl with All the Gifts Required One More Sacrifice on the Altar: A Film Review

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Director: Colm McCarthy.

Writers: Mike Carey (novel), Mike Carey (screenplay)

Cast: Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine.

The Girl with All the Gifts is one of the best zombie-styled films to come out of the United Kingdom, in quite awhile. Based on Mike Carey's novel, this horror title brings the zombie action back to London, a la 28 Days Later (2001). This time, these fast moving fungal infected freaks are sensitive to smell, mostly. Very similar to the plotline of the PS4 game The Last of Us (2013), in both media spores are the danger of the day, infecting the brain. Helen, played by actress Gemma Arterton, plays the protective parent, this time around. Helen is also very naive, especially when compared with the character Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). The Girl with All the Gifts asks a few moral questions: which is more important - humanity or the individual? This viewer never came to a consensus. But, fans of zombie or infectious flicks are encouraged to seek out this very thrilling title, The Girl with All the Gifts.

The Last of Us was another story which focused on an infectious element. And, the filmmakers of The Girl with All the Gifts, or writer Mike Carey have been influenced by this 2013 video game release. Both stories deal with a parental figure protecting a young girl. This time, in the film, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is the cure to an infection. Her brain and spinal cord could create a vaccine. Melanie is more complicated than Ellie. However, both young girls play the protagonist in each story. As well, the city landscapes in the film and the game look rundown, overgrown and full of deadly pathogens. In both releases, spores lead to more infections. And, the natural environments are contaminated by something strange and alien. It is interesting to see how one type of media can influence another.

The story within The Girl with All the Gifts is more complex, though. Melanie is at the center of the story. Found in a maternity ward on a military expedition, Melanie has spent almost her entire life in a bunker and research center. She is infected with a fungal pathogen, but she is still able to: speak, interact and form connections with others. The story steps into high gear, when the military base is overrun, by the infected hordes. Melanie is rescued by her very idealistic teacher, Helen. With a small group of soldiers, they attempt to travel through London, to reach another base. A more foolhardy plan could not have been hatched and the results are dire.

Helen was this viewer's least favourite character. Her naivety and idealism are contrasted by Dr. Caldwell's reason. One character is an obivious foil for the other. As an example of Helen's naivete, she unstraps a bloodthirsty Melanie, in one scene. She takes no precautions to keep herself safe. Melanie is basically a monster, hoping to infect or eat the uninfected. She can barely keep her hunger under wraps. Yet, Helen is consistently willing to give Melanie the benefit of the doubt, despite the very real threat to her life. This reviewer enjoyed the character Caldwell's colder, more scientific approach to the world; she just wants to find a vaccine, at any costs. The fate of humanity is at stake, after all. Still, the filmmakers did not agree with this critic's take on the problem, nor the solution.

Helen and Caldwell are also on opposite ends of the moral equation. Helen believes the individual, especially Melanie, are more important than humanity. Is Melanie even human (arguably no)? On the other end of the spectrum, Caldwell is more interested in saving humanity, while forgoing the needs of the individual. This brings up an interesting moral question; which is more important - humanity as a whole or the individual? Without humanity, the individual cannot survive. And, without the individual, humanity cannot survive. This viewer does not have an answer to this question, but the film does. The outcome is a bit myopic, in this reviewer's opinion, and it should have been more tragic.

Great films ask difficult questions. And, The Girl with All the Gifts brings forth a couple of great and complex moral questions. What would you do, if humanity was at stake and one infected girl had the cure? This film also wears its influences on its sleeve. Viewers will see other films, television shows and media platforms influencing this film outing. As well, this watcher was not endeared to the character Helen, who often acts foolishly. Still, it is interesting to see Caldwell and Helen offer different sides to a complicated argument. Horror fans are encouraged to ask their own questions with The Girl with All the Gifts as this feature plays at their local film festival.

Overall: 8 out of 10.

*the character Sgt. Parks gives a strong clue as to how the film views morality. He says to Helen: "in my opinion, there are no good or bad people. There are just people struggling with what is thrown at them, day to day." This is not an exact quote. But, there are no morally neutral people, in the world. You are either good (truthful, integrous, courageous) or evil (deceitful, disintegrous, cowardly). Pick a side.

A trailer for the film is available here: The Girl with All the Gifts Trailer on 28DLA

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