A scientist, two soldiers and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie who is not what she appears to be.
It's hard in the modern age to go into a film completely blind. The prevalence of trailers, teasers, posters, marketing - all of it - means that there are precious films that can be approached with no foreknowledge of the film and its story. Moreover, most films simply don't bother to hide themselves from the public, happily giving as much as they can in trailers that act as a condensed version of the film itself. The Girl With All The Gifts, however, is one of these few films that truly benefits from absolutely no knowledge of what its story is or the world in which it is set.
In fact, we'd almost recommend you to stop reading this and take our advice that it's an excellent film that you should really check out. But, we'll move on.
The film opens a small girl, played by the wonderful child actor Sennia Nanua, in a prison cell who is surrounded by military types who treat her like an incredibly dangerous animal. She's transported from her cell in a wheelchair, bound up and muzzled, to a classroom where Gemma Arterton sits at the top desk and reads fantasy stories to them. The manner in which the children's true nature is revealed is terrifying; done in one effective scene with Paddy Considine and a child actor and a haunting electronic score. From there, the story progresses out from their facility to the outside world. The transition is done, again in one hugely effective scene, that sees the child being pushed through a warzone to meet Glenn Close's cold-hearted scientist. Before long, the film shifts gears from a confined chamber drama to a road movie set in the ruins of England.
So very few films of this ilk show the destroyed world, but the scale in which it is shown is made all the more haunting. The production design makes great use of familiar places, a shopping centre, a Tesco, a hospital or an apartment complex, to give it an air of familiarity and then to shape it into something violent and horrible. What was once homely and familiar is now decaying and dead. This theme runs throughout the entire film, that the world was dying already and the unexplained virus simply hastened its eventual end. It's heady stuff and the sheer lack of hopelessness in the group's situation is more on par with John Carpenter's The Thing or George A. Romero's original Dawn Of The Dead.
The performances from Glenn Close, Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton are all spectacular, especially Close who makes the wise choice of underplaying her role as the morally justified scientist who'll stop at nothing to find a cure. There's one scene between her and the titular girl, Sennia Nanua, that is haunting and shows just how far her character has gone from where she began. Likewise, Paddy Considine excels as his performance comes out in a natural, unhindered way - making all the horrors around him all the more frightening. Sennia Nanua is a real discovery as Melanie and provides the film with much of its impetus. Again, like all the characters in this film, they are believable and feel real - despite its very unrealistic setting.
Colm McCarthy wisely changes up the film's tone to suit M.R. Carey's script. It goes from atmospheric horror to survivalist thriller to heartbreaking family drama and back again, all with an emotional intelligence and thoughtful view of the world around us as it is and how it could be. While some of the choices for action sequences might be a little familiar and somewhat generic, there is a sense that with a much more significant budget - it was made on a budget for just £4,000,000 - there could be a stronger visual identity to it. Still, that's a minor complaint in what is easily one of the best British horror films of the past twenty years.