The Girl with All the Gifts is another example of a movie adaptation that benefits from having its screenplay penned by the original book’s author; in this case, M.R. Carey.
Plot-wise, it’s a post-apocalyptic story where society has been crippled by zombie-like creatures when a fungal infection that attacks the brain and essentially takes control of the host body (based on a real infection that affects ants) mutated to start affecting humans. We follow a group of characters who must band together after the facility they have been living in is attacked, most notably a young girl with strange links to the infection who may be the key to a cure.
I definitely enjoyed the film, thinking that the core atmosphere of the book translated well to the big screen. In terms of changes from book to film, there were some I liked and some I wasn’t as keen on. The removal of ‘Junkers’ (scavengers who essentially live wild and are hostile towards those who live and work in the research/military bases) made sense in terms of pacing. It would have been too much to develop the threat of both the infected and the Junkers whilst still allowing time for decent plot and character development.
Another change that I think worked well for the screen was the more singular emphases on Melanie, the young protagonist. In the book, hers is one of several points-of-view we follow, and whilst I think this works well on the page to better develop the characters and their various motivations and perspectives, the time constraints of a film may have meant each character became too diluted if the limelight were shared equally. By allowing Sennia Nanua’s strong and captivating performance as Melanie to carry the film, we feel more invested in her.
However, there is an action sequence towards the end of the novel that was sadly absent from the film. I think it would have helped to heighten the build-up to and impact of the climax. I’m glad that the actual ending itself remained intact however, with its wonderfully eerie, bittersweet feel.
I’m aware that there was some conversation surrounding possible controversy with regards to the fact that Helen Justineau is black in the book yet white in the movie (being portrayed by Gemma Arterton). I don’t in any way advocate white-washing, but personally I don’t feel this was the case here. By way of balance, Melanie’s skin tone is also switched, with her being white in the book yet black in the movie. Thus, offering the benefit of the doubt to the filmmakers, perhaps they decided the important detail wasn’t Melanie’s skin-tone, but rather the fact that it contrasted with Justineau’s.
The acting itself was very good, with Arterton capturing the sympathetic, humane quality of Justineau well; Glenn Close great as Dr Caldwell with her analytical, single-minded focus on finding a cure, and Nanua’s enigmatic yet youthful energy being the real lynchpin of the whole film.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, though perhaps more so than I would have had I not read the book, since I already felt invested in and familiar with the characters and their world. The main ‘twist’ of the book isn’t able to be maintained for long in visual form, meaning that the screen version does lose some of the uniqueness that made the book stand out so much in the ‘zombie’ genre, making it feel a little more run-of-the-mill. It is however still a visually striking film complemented by good performances and a more emotional, sensitive approach than most films of its type, and all-in-all, a faithful adaptation in spirit and tone if not in all the finer details.