The Girl with all the Gifts (2016) review: Imaginative and emotional update on the zombie trope

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Director: Colm McCarthy Writers: Mike Carey (novel), Mike Carey (screenplay) Stars:Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close

Based on a novel of the same name, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is a horror/drama set in a dystopian Britain, where an aggressive fungal infection has turned most of the population into mindless, flesh-eating ‘hungries’ (zombies essentially). ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ follows the fortunes of a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) on her journey of self-discovery. Starting in a bleak underground bunker on an army base, we see Melanie and her classmates being strapped into wheelchairs and transported from their tiny cells to an austere classroom by heavily armed soldiers. Leading the class is affable teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who treats the children with a warmth and respect the military personnel lack. As the story unfolds Melanie finds herself on the run with Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), fleeing to escape a horde of hungries, slowly learning more about who she is, where she came from and her part in the unfolding horror around her.

Created by a British team on a relatively tiny £4.4 million budget, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is an ambitious genre piece with a surprisingly glossy production feel. Mike Carey has taken his own novel and penned the script, making some interesting choices with its adaptation from book to big screen. Taking out some of the more horrific elements of the novel, Carey instead brings us a more intimate tale, with some of the characters sharp edges filed away; which at times leads to their motivations feeling muddled and two-dimensional.

Melanie however, played by shining star Sennia Nanua, feels fully formed, ferocious and frightening, veering from wide-eyed innocence to feral abandon with ease. Her idolisation of Miss Justineau is both claustrophobic and beautiful, with Arterton and Nanua managing to convey their peculiar bond with a single glance. Glenn Close was an apt choice for the role of the Cruella De Vil-esque Dr Caldwell, who is desperate to dissect our heroine. She seems to disappear into the background for most of the middle act, only to make an impactful return for the heart-crushing finale. Some light relief comes in the form of Paddy Considine as Sgt Parks, whose ‘call a spade a spade’ attitude and practicality reflects the fact that despite the horror it portrays the film does not take itself too seriously.

One of the most successful aspects of the film is the wonderful score, by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, which takes a repetitive refrain of looped voices to add a real sense of foreboding and dread to the bleak landscapes.

While some of the practical make-up and effects look a little clunky (understandable given the budgetary restraints), and not all of the hungries elicit the same level of fear (indeed one or two raised a quiet snigger), the sheer imagination and emotion of ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ manages to steer it past B-movie territory and could well see it considered one of the best films in the zombie genre.

Now you all need to see it so we can talk about that ending…

7 out of 10

Afflicted (2014): Found footage horror takes on vampires

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Directed by:Derek Lee, Clif Prowse Written by:Derek Lee, Clif Prowse  Starring:Clif Prowse, Derek Lee, Michael Gill

The blurb says “Two best friends see their trip of a lifetime take a dark turn when one of them is struck by a mysterious affliction. Now, in a foreign land, they race to uncover the source before it consumes him completely.”

My verdict: Lee and Prowse raised the money to make Afflicted, their first feature film, through a small grant combined with money from their friends and family. It was a labour of love, as is evidenced by the names on the credits, which sees the pair being responsible for many aspects of the making of, as well as starring in, this found-footage horror.

It is certainly an interesting take on the found footage genre, and seems to have more in common with Chronicle or Cloverfield than many of it’s horror stable mates. The effects are seemless and the production values look high considering it’s humble beginnings. What let’s it down is that the concept and execution are far superior to the story, which peters out somewhat in the final 20 minutes. The characters too are also somewhat flimsy, despite sharing the director/writers names, and many of their actions leave you wondering what their motivation is.

Overall though it is an interesting new variant in both the vampire and found-footage genres, so kudos to Prowse and Lee for putting together such an audacious first feature.

 Afflicted has a brand new take on one of the oldest kinds of scary monster.

7 out of 10 

WolfCop (2014): Ridiculous alcoholic lyncanthropic fun

Film

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Directed by: Lowell Dean Written by: Bannister Bergen , Lowell Dean Starring:Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry

The blurb says “It’s not unusual for alcoholic cop Lou to black out and wake up in unfamiliar surroundings, but lately things have taken a turn for the strange…and hairy. WolfCop is the story of one cop’s quest to become a better man. One transformation at a time.”

The verdict: Wolfcop is the ultimate Friday night cult horror to compliment your popcorn and beer. Daft, fun, and with enough cinematic savvy to make it watchable, it will keep you giggling and even give you a few gross-out moments too. Summoning the spirit of the 80’s, with some great practical special effects, WolfCop won’t be winning any awards for originality, (or for much else) but it will put a smile on your face with it’s lupine puns and unashamed stupidity. Let’s face it, if you go in to a film called ‘WolfCop’ with expectations of nuanced characterisation and insightful commentary on the human condition, you are going to leave disappointed.

The soundtrack is also pretty brilliant.

It’s not big, it’s not clever, but goddamn it’s fun.

6 out of 10