Review: There’s a well-known paradox known as Schrödinger Cat, a thought experiment in which a cat is put into a box with a toxic acid that may kill it. While inside the box, without observer, the cat is said to be simultaneously alive and dead. One character in The Girl with All the Gifts mentions about the paradox, while simultaneously posts a most appropriate allegory for this film.
The best way to plunge into The Girl with All the Gifts is knowing less beforehand. Not that it is full of surprises and twists, but the adaptation of Mike Carey’s bestselling novel relies much on its first act which serves as a mind-boggling sci-fi mystery with minimum clue available. The less you know about what this film is about, the more this part crawls along your skin with dozens of question marks.
Without preamble, you are introduced to a prison-like facility, where children, including one girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), are treated like criminals by soldiers who seem afraid to them. Those children looks normal and harmless, but they cannot roam around freely; they’re strapped on wheelchairs and heavily guarded. During the day, they’re gathered in a kind of school where they learn like normal children under guidance of Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton); yet, at night, they’re confined and fed with worms. Questions rise: what are those children?
The first act of The Girl with All the Gifts is literally the best part of it. The preamble of this review is only a small head up and an important clue where this first 25 minutes lead to. Spiced up with profound mystery and occasional sci-fi details, this solid act reveals an important details to which this story heads to. Below this point, the review is considered as muddled with spoiler, read on your own risk.
As it turns out, The Girl with All the Gifts is a British zombie story, which works less like 28 Days Later but more like I Am Legend than any zombie apocalypse movie. In this zombie story, Mike Carey, who also writes the script, knows well how to inject science to the story. The scientific details are astounding and (could be) realistic; that’s what makes it terrific. However, scientific detail is one thing, and narrative is another thing.
Once the plot moves forward, this silently dangerous zombie film goes from thought-provoking to dull. Practically, after the break-out and one of the terrific “silent” scenes, this film loses its consistency in pacing and tension distribution. Plenty of twists are waiting ahead, but those shock therapies do not quite add up, as questionable decisions begin piling up. Fortunately, some mysteries are unraveled piece by piece, keeping audiences at board. The Girl with All the Gifts gets lost right after the first act passes and, until the end, it cannot find the significance of the titular girl, especially with the questionable ending.
The Girl with All the Gifts doesn’t appear blatantly; director Colm McCarthy likes to play it quietly, creating occasional tension built on silence and serenity, which sometimes doesn’t hit effectively. Those silent moments are adorned with eccentric scoring and series of wideshots, as well as sympathetic supporting performance by Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine, which at least, makes it digestible.
In the end, all those scientific detail and allegory of Schrödinger Cat, which differentiate this zombie story from the others, are piled up by The Girl with All the Gifts’ confused focus and pace. It could’ve been a more profound sci-fi mystery with terrific details, but it ends up being a limp narrative body.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
This review is sponsored by Book My Show Indonesia.