Horror Film Review: The Girl With All The Gifts (dir by Colm McCarthy)


It says a lot about the state of things that movies about the end of the world have recently become not just popular but also extremely plausible.  It seems like every time I look at a list of upcoming films, I see predictions of fear, desperation, and apocalypse.  Almost every end of the world scenario now seems to come with zombies.  Perhaps people are taking that famous line from Dawn of the Dead to heart.  When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk with Earth.

The British film The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the latest examples of the apocalyptic genre.  It has everything that we’ve come to expect from films like this: flesh-craving zombies, blighted urban landscapes, soldiers trying to maintain order as the world collapses into chaos, sinister scientists, children faced with rebuilding the world, and that one lone idealist who doesn’t want to give up on the present.  It’s a familiar story but The Girl With All The Gifts tells it well.

In this case, the end of the world has been brought about by a fungal infection.  Those afflicted not only lose the ability to think but are also transformed into flesh-eating maniacs.  Interestingly enough, the term zombie is never used in the film.  Instead, the infected are called “the hungries.”  I assume that’s because the infected aren’t actually the living dead.  In fact, even after transforming them, the infection still eventually kills them.

(If you really want to freak yourself out while watching The Girl With All The Gifts, consider that the fungal infection is actual thing, though it only affects carpenter ants.  For now…)

In an isolated army base, a group of children are kept in cells and guarded over by soldiers, like the gruff Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine).  They are experimented on by scientists, like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close).  And they are taught by a kind-hearted teacher named Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).  One of the most intelligent of the children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who often asks Helen to tell the class a story.

The children are often bound and required to wear masks.  The adults are under strict orders not to touch or even get too close to the children.  Why?  Because the children are hungry too.  Born after the end of the world, the children are unique in that they crave flesh but they also retain the ability to think and speak.  The soldiers view them as freaks and potential enemies.  Dr. Caldwell views them as test subjects.  Only Helen views them as children.

You can probably already guess where this is going.  When the hungries overrun the army base, only a small group of people manage to escape — Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, another solider, and Melanie.  They eventually make it to London, which is now overgrown with vegetation.  Some of the film’s most haunting and tense moments come as the group attempts to maneuver through a crowd of docile, unsimulated hungries.  They know that making the wrong move or the least little sound will result in the hungries waking up and attacking.

It’s in London that a lot is revealed about both the nature of the disease and why Melanie is, as the title states, the girl with all the gifts.

For the most part, it’s all very well done.  The film has such a strong opening and powerful ending that it’s easy to forgive the fact that the middle of the film occasionally drags.  Director Colm McCarthy creates some haunting images of the post-apocalyptic world and, even if he does borrow a bit heavily from 28 Days Later, at least he’s borrowing from the best.  He makes good use of his cast, too.  Glenn Close is as perfectly sinister as Gemma Arterton is perfectly idealistic.  Sennia Nanua is both sympathetic and a little bit frightening as the girl who might eat you as quickly as she might save you.

The Girl With All The Gifts is a good movie but it left me feeling incredibly depressed.  Post-apocalyptic ruin no longer seems as safely far-fetched as it once did.

Film Review: Ghost in the Shell (dir by Rupert Sanders)


Last night, I finally saw Ghost in the Shell.

Now, before I start in on this review, I should admit that I’m hardly an expert on the manga on which Ghost in the Shell was based.  (In fact, as soon as I wrote that previous sentence, I called my boyfriend over and had him read it, just to make sure that I was using the term manga correctly.)  A few years ago, I did watch Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film version.  And while I don’t remember a whole lot about the animated Ghost in the Shell, I do remember that I was never bored while watching it.  I wish I could say the same about the live action Ghost in the Shell.

Don’t get me wrong.  The live action, Westernized Ghost In The Shell is truly a visually impressive film.  It takes place in the near future, in the fictional Japanese city of New Port City.  New Port City basically looks like the city from Blade Runner, just with a somewhat more colorful visual scheme.  Everywhere you look, there are gigantic holographic advertisements and sleek, neon buildings.  But, as advanced as New Port City may look at first sight, it’s also full of dark allies, cramped apartments, and gray cemeteries.  Visually, it’s a perfect mix of  outlandish science fiction and brooding film noir.

Or, at least, it is the first time that you see it.  Unfortunately, director Rupert Sanders has a habit of using the visuals as a crutch.  It seemed as if, every time a new plot point was clumsily introduced, we would suddenly cut to another shot of New Port City at night, as if the film was saying, “Don’t worry about narrative coherence!  Look at the city!”

After about 15 minutes, I decided to take the film up on its suggestion.  I stopped paying attention to the slow-moving story and I focused almost exclusively on the visuals.  That’s a shame really because, from what I understand, both the manga and the original film are deeply philosophical works that balance style with thematic depth.  Unfortunately, since there’s no real depth to the live action Ghost in the Shell, you really have no choice but to focus almost exclusively on the style.

Ghost in the Shell takes place in a world where the line between human and machine has become blurred.  Everyone is getting cybernetic upgrades done.  One character, Batou (Pilou Asbæk), even gets new eyes halfway through the film.  Major (Scarlett Johansson) is unique because, while her brain is human, her body is totally cybernetic.  She is a member of Section 9, an anti-terrorism task force.  Major has only vague flashes of memory of who she used to be.  She’s been told that her parents were killed by terrorists but she doesn’t know if that’s true or if that’s just more manipulation from Cutter (Peter Ferdinando).  (It’s no spoiler to say that Cutter turns out to be a not nice guy.  He’s the CEO of a Hanka Robotics and when was the last time you saw a movie where a robotics CEO didn’t turn out to be a not nice guy?)  After Section 9 thwarts a cyberterrorist attack against Hanka Robotics, Major starts to wonder who she is and who she can trust.  Everyone tells her that, because she has a human brain, she’s also a human.  But Major still feels lost and without an identity.  When she starts to get too close to discovering her past, Cutter sets out to not only destroy her but all of Section 9 as well…

There’s a really good movie in which Scarlett Johansson plays a lost soul looking for her identity in Japan.  It’s called Lost in Translation.  Or, if you just want to see Scarlett playing someone who is learning more and more about herself and what she’s capable of, you could go watch Lucy.  (I don’t care much for that movie but some people seemed to like it.)  Or, if you want to see Scarlett play an enigmatic being who explores the world while hiding her true form in a human shell, you can always go watch Under the Skin.

(I highly recommend Under the Skin, which is as thought-provoking as Ghost in the Shell is shallow.)

This is what’s frustrating.  Scarlett Johansson gives a really good performance in Ghost in the Shell but she’s continually let down by a script that refuses to take the time to really explore anything.  We get a scene or two of Major wondering what it means to be truly human but the movie is always more interested in getting to the next action scene.  There’s a lot of talk about what it means to be human but there’s no real exploration.  Ghost in the Shell has all the depth of one of those old sci-fi shows where aliens (and, occasionally, androids) approach bemused humans and ask, “What is this thing that you call laughter?”

Ghost in the Shell ends with the hint of more films to come.  Personally, I’d rather see Scarlett Johansson in a Black Widow solo film.  When is that going to happen, Marvel Studios!?  Let’s get to it!  As for the live action Ghost in the Shell, it’s just frustrating and forgettable.

But the city looks really good!

The Girl With All The Gifts Gives A Glimpse of A Hungry, Dystopian Future


TheGirlWithAllTheGifts

Several years ago, a video games was released for the PS4 that took on the zombie survival horror genre and put a new twist on it. The game was called The Last of Us. It was a game set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where an unknown fungal infection had decimated the world’s population by turning those it infected into mutated creatures with a taste for living flesh.

There’s been talk of turning the game into a live-action film, but things never progressed beyond the concept and pre-development stage. The game’s narrative does lend itself well into being a live-action film.

Now let’s move up a few more years. The year 2014 to be exact and we see comic book writer and novelist M.R. Carey release a novel titled The Girl with All The Gifts. It’s a novel which shares the detail of a fungal infection creating zombie-like creatures (called “hungries” in the book and film) from those who become infected. Outside of that important detail the novel and the game only share the post-apocalyptic setting.

The novel was so well-received by critics and readers alike that plans to adapt the book into a live-action film was made soon after it’s release. While the live-action plans for The Last of Us languishes in development hell, it looks like we’ll finally be able to see something similar with the soon-to-be released film The Girl with All The Gifts.

The film stars newcomer Sennia Nanua as the titular girl with all the gifts with veteran actors such as Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine backing her up. As the so-called zombie fatigue (maybe for some general audiences but definitely not to most horror fans) begin to set in, it’s stories like The Last of Us and The Girl with All The Gifts that continues to breathe in new life into a sub-genre of horror storytelling to keep it going strong.

The Girl with All The Gifts is set to hit the theaters on September 23, 2016.