Cinema: Scary movie is an education

Written By: Rita Di Santo
Published: October 11, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

The Girl With All The Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy

Deepwater Horizon
Director: Peter Berg

Most zombie stories follow more or less the same formula: awkward guys use guns and improvised armaments to protect women and children from the ravenous horde of zombies. But this one is something less familiar. Packed with revelations, constantly shifting between classic horror and survival thrillers, The Girl With All The Gifts is a real boost to the genre Based on the terrific novel by Mike Carey, the story is set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, where all is overrun by zombies and small numbers of humans hide from the undead.

Lots of zombie stories have offered a biological explanation for the plague— as did 28 Days Later or Brad Pitt’s big-screen adaptation of World War Z, whose plague storyline felt added on. This story tweaks the recipe, putting more weight on the attempts to conquer the infection than the slaughter and the mere fight to survive. The movie’s monsters are children, controlled by a mutant version of the fungus, that spurts from the head of an ant in the form of a sporangium.

The children are the second generation of zombies, part zombie and part human, that have made their way out, eating their mothers alive. Segregated in little cells, they are constantly submitted to maths and psychological tests, fastened into wheelchairs and supervised by armed soldiers in the classroom. They look like any other children, sweet and adorable, but when teacher Justineau (Gemma Arterton) touches the head of one of her favourite zombie-girls Melanie (Sennia Nanua), the harsh Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) warns her with a demonstration of the real nature of zombies – always ready to devour human flesh.

Melanie is wanted for experiments by scientist Caldwell (Glenn Close), but seems more human than the other zombie children and when the military base is attacked by a horde of zombies, Melanie becomes the only hope for the small group of human survivors of the military base.
Under the talents of Scottish director Colm McCarthy The Girl With All the Gifts is full of surprises. It keeps shifting from atmospheric horror to intense survival thriller to thoughtful contemplation of humanity’s place in our planet’s food chain. It manages to deliver everything you could possibly want from a zombie movie: scary moments, memorable characters, creative variations of the genre’s tropes, and serious political and educational subtext.

Ultimately, it’s a bloody fairy tale about child and teacher. Melanie and Justine, living with fears and emotions, are in a relationship of mutual adoption. The zombie-girl and humanity – as an education system – in a constant state of ambivalence and tension. The recurrent question for the group of survivors is: Can we trust Melanie or not? The teacher is the only one who has no doubts.

In UK, there still exists almost an apartheid system between children who read, who through books, through developing an enjoyment of literature, can have the opportunity to access the considerable cultural and material benefits of our society, and those who were made to feel very early on that the world of words, of books, of stories, of ideas, was not for them, that they were not clever enough to join that world, that it was not the world they belonged to, that it was shut off from them forever.

On April 20 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, the infamous British Petroleum oil rig Deepwater Horizon caught fire and exploded miles beneath the waves, killing 11 workers and causing the largest offshore oil spill in the history of the United States.

Director Peter Berg recreates one of the world’s largest man-made catastrophes, second by second. The film focuses on the final hours, when the crew fought for survival amid multiple explosions, overflowing oil, dashing flames, rising smoke, roaring metal and shattering glass.

Action-packed, yet rich in detail, the film has a documentary-like impact. We become familiar with several of the characters, but it is not their story, rather the story of the catastrophe, from beginning to end. A brief opening sequence in which Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) starts his day with his wife and daughter and then goes to work, helps us connect with the other technicians working and living on the rig. He returns to his family in a sequence near the end, but all the other scenes are shot on the rig or the rescue boat. A full immersion in the dynamics of the catastrophe with an astonishing mix of emotions and visual impact, this is one of the greatest disaster movies in cinema history.

Deepwater Horizon was one of the most advanced oil rigs to have been built, featuring a deck the size of a football field and below-deck living quarters for 146 people, including a gym and a movie theatre. At the time of the disaster, however, work was six weeks behind schedule and losing half a million dollars a day. The immense pressure to get the job finished led to the mistakes which caused the largest marine oil spill in human history.  Berg underlines the corporate negligence with a terrific John Malkovich, playing a stubborn BP representative who fails to appreciate the danger of the work being done.

The consequences of the blowout are still being evaluated. Last year, the US government determined that BP must pay over $20 billion toward the environmental restoration efforts on hundreds of kilometres of polluted coastline. The agreement adds to the $43.8 billion BP had previously set aside for criminal and civil penalties and clean-up costs. The company has said its total pre-tax charge for the spill is now around $53.8 billion. Maybe we will see a part two of Deepwater Horizon.