The Kids Aren’t Alright

Imagine a future where the population is decimated by a virus that turns people into raving monsters, hell bent on feeding a bloodlust by tearing those not affected limb from limb. Cities overrun by droves of wild children, living like some urban version of Lord of the Flies. Only a small group of military soldiers and scientists are left to try and find a cure for this disastrous disease. They work with a group of infected kids to try and figure out how they can suppress the disease and its effects(aka, stop the kids from eating them all.)

No, this isn’t some real life scenario happening somewhere in a bunker in Washington, DC. And it’s also not the premise of a spin-off of The Walking Dead. This is the story behind the excellent sci fi/horror film The Girl With All The Gifts.

So the ideas that are in this film aren’t new, per say. There’s elements of 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, George Romero zombie films, and even a bit of Let The Right One In, but none of these come close to explaining The Girl With All The Gifts. A fungal disease has nearly devastated mankind by turning people into mindless, fast monsters that devour the living. In a small military base there’s a group of second generation “hungries” that are children who are being studied. They have the disease but can somehow control their urges and can be suppressed by healthy people wearing an ointment to cover their scent. One girl in particular, Melanie(she’s the one with all the gifts in case you were wondering), is extremely intelligent and shows great affection to one of the teachers. This teacher shows her kindness and has grown fond of her as well. The base ends up being overrun and a small group of soldiers, the teacher, Melanie, and an army scientist played by Glenn Close escape in an army vehicle. The film shows the group attempt to find safety in a overgrown London and the world as it is in this dilapidated future.

I found this movie to be an exceptional and original take on the apocalyptic/dystopian future movie, as well as the virus sci fi flick. The acting by Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, and especially Sennia Nanua as Melanie was incredible. Director Colm McCarthy does an amazing job of giving Gifts a truly cinematic feel. It looks great -like a blockbuster- but still feels like a gritty arthouse film. To me, this film reminds me of a movie I’d find sitting on Video World’s wall of sci-fi/horror films. I’d eye it for years and then on some nondescript Friday night I’d whine enough until my mom would rent it for me. It would’ve completely blown me away and I’d carry that film experience with me for the rest of my life. I’d be horrified, saddened, angry, and ultimately I’d want to see Melanie live on and succeed somehow(of course at the expense of mankind.)

And then there’s the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer, which is absolutely brilliant.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a movement of film composers stepping out of the typical symphonic box and doing something original in the field. Mica Levi, Johann Johannson, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Wojciech Golczewski, and Cliff Martinez to name but a few are approaching scoring films in a very unique way. There’s nothing wrong with going the John Williams or Hans Zimmer route, but minimal isn’t always a bad thing either.

Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s approach to scoring The Girl With All The Gifts seems to fall into more of a visceral space. It’s a very percussive musical score, with voices taking the place of what may have been woodwinds and Latin percussion. It sounds electronic and synthetic, but at the same time it feels very organic. Opening track “Gifted” sounds like NIN performed in some Thunderdome-like construct deep in the rain forest. Voices take the place of droning electronic devices as a buzzing of some unseen force begins to envelope everything in a 10 mile radius. It truly sounds like nothing I’ve heard before, and that’s saying a lot. A track like “Pandora” folds in an unmistakable melancholy which leads into “Hunger”, another slow, dread-building track. “Hungry Classroom” sounds like Wendy Carlos performing The Shining score on aboriginal instrumentation and using throat singers.

De Veer doesn’t care about zombies and horror(he says as much in this interview.) What he cares about is getting us emotionally invested in the very unique story that plays out in front of us. He wants us to connect with this young girl named Melanie. A girl that could very easily tear us apart without batting an eye. His score does that, as well as help push the film along in both darker moments and lighter ones.

The score for The Girl With All The Gifts reminds me a lot of Mica Levi’s work for Under The Skin. It feels very minimalist, but it never sounds sparse. There’s darkness there, but not for the sake of being creepy and weird. Like I said before, this music works on a very visceral level. It moves you at your core. Cristobal Tapia De Veer seems to be pulling inspiration from some of his peers, but also from his surroundings. I could see him walking a trail in a woods somewhere and finding sticks, rocks, and a hollowed out tree trunk and seeing a musical score in those items. I’d like to hear that score, too.

The Girl With All The Gifts is well worth your time. It’s a brilliant film, with an equally brilliant score.