What is it with me and horror films lately? I know Halloween has been and gone but I don’t normally follow a trend, especially when that trend is likely to give me nightmares! I got off lightly with Under The Shadow (click here for the review) so maybe this has filled me with an air of confidence and self-belief that I am becoming desensitised to all this spooky stuff…
…but I did squint my eyes and put my fingers in my ears throughout the running time. Y’know, to lessen the impact of the scares. Everyone does that though… don’t they?
Anyway, if you tell me there is a film out where some of it was filmed in my neighbouring town of Birmingham and it’s being shown in my local independent cinema that has just had its funding pulled and is facing closure, then wild horses wouldn’t stop me from seeing it. Even if it does feature flesh-eating zombies! I had a feeling I would be popping to the chemists after the screening to pick up some Kalms to help me get to sleep (other sleep medications are available…unless Kalms want to sponsor my blog, in which case buy Kalms, it’s great stuff!)
I’ve waffled for three paragraphs and not mentioned the film I went to see yet! It was The Girl With All The Gifts, and what an astonishing film it is, too.
Set in post-apocalyptic Britain, the vast majority of humanity has been infected by a fungal disease, turning them into cannibalistic “Hungries”. Deep within an army base somewhere in the UK, a group of children who have this disease are locked up under heavy guard by the military and examined by Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), who believes these children hold the key to discovering the cure. When their base is overrun by Hungries, Caldwell, Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine), the children’s teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and a child born with the disease, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), escape and hit the road in the hope of making it alive to a larger base…
This film grasps your attention from the very first frame and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. It builds up the mystery and suspense by revealing little bits of plot detail throughout the running time and doesn’t just dump it on you in one fell swoop and cram in flashy visual effects and action scenes to pad it out. It keeps you interested in the development of the plot and the characters and it is full of surprises, too. There were a few routes that the story took that I didn’t see coming, which is so refreshing in a world of remakes and comic book adaptations. It works as a horror too but not for the reasons you may expect. Yes, it can be gruesome when it has to be (but it’s never gratuitous) but the real fear comes from how these seemingly innocent children are treated like wild, dangerous animals by their captors and how abruptly their innocence is replaced by vicious, insatiable hunger for uninfected flesh when they catch the scent and how brutal they become when their addiction takes hold. It is horrific viewing and works superbly to unsettle you without relying desperately on an impotent gore-fest for a cheap scare. This film never has to rely on these lazy methods as it never runs out of intelligent ideas to imbue fear into its audience.
The jewel in this glittering crown of a film though is the remarkable performance of Sennia Nanua as Melanie. Her subtle and nuanced take on an every-day kid inflicted by this voracious condition that she is powerless to resist is breathtakingly natural and scarily realistic. She shines amongst a cast that give such adept performances, not least the supporting cast of children who have suffered the same fate as the lead.
It isn’t a perfect film, although it was awfully close to gate-crashing my top three films of the year. Despite it finishing under two hours there were sections that dragged and it would benefit from having fifteen minutes or so shaved from its running time. It may sound like a small and a harsh criticism but when you start wondering how long is left when it is a relatively short film then there is definitely some flab that needs trimming.
All in all though, I highly recommend that you seek out this film. You may struggle to find a cinema near you screening it so add it to your list of ones to watch. You won’t be disappointed.