Exactly one year younger than this here narrator & blogger, Colm is better known for his directing skills on seminal British Television series Ripper Street, Dr Who, Sherlock and more recently in 2014 the excellent Peaky Blinders. This blog concentrates on his second feature length directorial film to date - The Girl With All The Gifts in 2016.
It is not my intention to provide spoilers for the coming film, but rather my purpose is to give an overall flavour as I do not want to spoil this film in any way. Moreover, all of my film blogs are an appreciation of the film's crafted by a wonderful Director and a thorough recommendation to suspend your disbelief and enjoy this brilliant and uniquely different cinematic creation.
Based on the highly acclaimed book of the same name by Mike Carey and with a screenplay from Carey himself, The Girl With All The Gifts is a British made, British Film Institute (BFI) and National Lottery part funded film that really captured my imagination when I originally watched this at my local cinema and has continued to do so on repeated viewings ever since and for a myriad of reasons both in front of and behind the camera. Before I briefly delve into the merits of the cast and crew that have produced a quite sublime film in the zombie/horror genre, my first impression of this film when I originally watched it was that I simply had no idea where the film was going or taking me, and that is to the sincere credit of writer Carey and Director McCarthy. The first twenty minutes are an excruciating watch at times and wrong footing the audience as to the motives and motivations behind the on screen actions and it's only when we break from the underground "prison" and into the daylight for the first time that we understand some of the reasons behind the actions as well as understanding the full scale of the film at hand. Set in a post apocalyptic world and just outside of London, England "Hungry's" or walking dead style zombies fill the streets everywhere and, more importantly, are several deep at the fence enclosing the army prison from where we as the audience have finally been released from after spending the first twenty minutes of the film in repressive, dimly lit claustrophobic cells and corridors. The "mission" is to find a cure or a vaccine for the apocalyptic fungus that is spreading throughout the world but equally important is the need to reach London or "The Beacon" and cleverly this is realised by Director McCarthy as we continually journey from dank darkness to daylight whether it's the claustrophobia of the army prison or the relief of the daylight of an outdoor shopping mall, back into the darkness and foreboding of a nearby hospital or the daylight again as we continue on towards the English capital city. That is in essence a very brief snapshot of the premise of the film but there is so much more to this revitalised take on the zombie/horror narrative and a brilliant ambiguity that runs throughout the film whether it's the characters themselves or the film's overall tone and simply not knowing how we got here and where the film will take us.
The Girl With All The Gifts has a stellar acting cast in front of the camera with the girl who indeed has all the gifts the youngest member of the cast, and in Sennia Nanua, provides the film's absolutely outstanding performance as "Melanie". In her debut feature length film performance Sennia's performance runs the full gamut of emotions, from placid calm to explosive rage as Melanie, a "test subject" and hyper intelligent young child who is ostensibly a Zombie Hungry but who, under strict control and supervision, is "nothing that has ever existed before", a cognitive thinking and, crucially, feeling Hungry that has immense empathy for others and quite apart from the adult Hungry's that fill the streets but more importantly the other young children in their makeshift class in the underground army bunker. Here all the children are strapped into wheelchairs and rigorously tested but despite the oppressive conditions that surround them are incredibly courteous and polite with never ending please's and thank you's to the aggressive soldiers, teachers and doctors who surround them. In a film that overtly deals with the loss of humanity in such an apocalyptic situation it's very clearly (and indeed cleverly) Melanie that remains a shining beacon of hope and humanity despite her genetic condition. Melanie's interactions throughout the film are a touchstone to it's overall success as well as a key through line and narrative, be it with "Dr Caldwell" (Glenn Close), "Sargeant Eddie Parks" (Paddy Considine) or "Helen Justineau" (Gemma Arterton). Soldier "Kieran Gallagher" (Fisayo Akinade) rounds off the five main characters off in search of both a vaccine and London but the three aforementioned roles demand further explanation as each of these three stellar actors produce phenomenal performances in their own right. Starting with Paddy Considine, he perhaps provides the slightest of comedic relief here as Eddie Parks with a rapier wit "just don't play with anyone who's dead" and who's simply desperate to stay "off the menu" of the Hungry's that surround them and just trying to deal with the situation that he finds himself reluctantly in, having joined the Territorial Army just prior to the world ending event. Glenn Close excels as the short haired Doctor Caldwell who whilst striving for a cure or vaccine is constantly testing the children but seemingly reflects the loss of humanity in the film in her singular vision whilst Gemma Arterton redresses the balance somewhat as an army fatigued teacher who is forever smiling, encouraging and cajoling the children under her care.
The theme of humanity or the loss thereof pervades a film that has clearly drawn immense inspiration from the behemoth television series The Walking Dead as well as Alien (the creation of these Hungry's alludes to this) but more specifically to Danny Boyle's brilliant 2002 apocalyptic zombie horror 28 Days Later. I hold Danny's film incredibly close to my heart but The Girl With All The Gifts is almost a match for this and McCarthy and his collaborations with his behind the scenes team of Editors, Director of Photography, Production and Set Designers all deserve immense praise for the realisation of this superb film. In conjunction with his Director of Photography Simon Dennis, McCarthy has produced a visually striking and affecting film whether in the dark oppressive confines of the underground bunker or the hospital through to some of the latter part of the film's most arresting images of nature taking back it's place in the world with foliage and undergrowth covering the entirety of small buildings and breaking through every area of concrete suburbia. Huge kudos is due in this regard to the production design of Kristian Milsted as well as numerous set designers who have been seemingly omitted from the film's credits. The film drips with a sense of dread, doom and trepidation and this is constantly reinforced whether through the lens of McCarthy and Dennis and their adoption of oblique and obscured camera angles as we slowly peer through foliage or a crack in a window or especially Cristobal Tapia De Veer's haunting, thumping, pulsing and skin crawling musical score that never lets up from first minute until the last. Even on a recent second viewing these feelings of unease and dread filled me yet again, which is testament to a superb film of dealing with an impossible truth and clinging to your humanity when all around you have lost theirs. If you haven't seen this film take my sincere advice and avoid any trailers or any further hints at the film's plot and watch this from a standing start. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it!