Many times in recent memory, I have mentioned my love of the zombie sub-genre and my disdain of its current state. With the exception of a few films such as Train to Busan (2016), recent entries of undead films have came off as dull, uninvolved and lifeless. The Girl With All The Gifts is not one of those movies. It’s a unique zombie film with heart and soul.
The Girl With All The Gifts was directed by Colm McCarthy (Outcast 2010) and written by Mike Carey based on his novel of the same name. The film stars Gemma Arterton (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 2013), Glenn Close (Mars Attacks 1996), Paddy Considine (Macbeth 2015), Sennia Nanua, Fisayo Akinade (The Isle 2017), and Anthony Welsh (Red Tails 2012).
In a dystopian near future, humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease. The afflicted are robbed of all free will and turned into flesh-eating “hungries.” Humankind’s only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh but retain the ability to think and feel. The children go to school at an army base in rural Britain where they’re subjected to cruel experiments by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close). School teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) grows particularly close to an exceptional girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), forming a special bond. But when the base is invaded, the trio escape with the assistance of Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and embark on a perilous journey of survival during which Melanie must come to terms with who she is.
Melanie is unique, even among her own kind. Along well as the other children she goes to school with, Melanie was born with the fungus already in her brain, giving her an inbred craving for human flesh. Unlike adult zombies, the children retain the ability to think and speak, although most refrain from speaking unless they are spoken to. Unlike the others, Melanie goes out of her way to be as polite as can be, addressing everyone by name and being sure to greet them when she sees them. She is highly intelligent and shows the ability to fight the hunger more than the other children.
All of the children are treated worse than garbage by the doctors and military personal at the base where they live and go to school, being shackled to chairs and frequently called “friggin abortions.” Dr. Caldwell just sees them as a host for the fungus and a means of synthesizing a cure – nothing more nothing less. Sgt. Parks, as well as the rest of the military personnel, sees as them as abominations, monster in the skin of children. Only Helen Justineau treats them like human beings. Due to massive amounts of excrement hitting the metaphorical fan, these various personalities and viewpoints are thrown together as the group tries to make it to safety.
The story feels akin to character driven zombie media such as 28 Days Later and The Last of Us, which is one of the films strongest suits. The characters are constantly growing and adapting. They learn from their experiences. The acting is exceptional all around. Relative newcomer Sennia Nanua does an astounding job playing a complicated character who spends the entire film on a roller coaster of emotions. Glenn Close delivers an excellent performance as the doctor, a woman you want to hate but can’t because you know her intentions are pure. She just wants to save the world, even if she has to dissect some kids to do it.
Paddy Considine gradually won me over with a character I fucking hated from the moment he walked on screen. Outside of Melanie, his character probably has the most in depth character arc of the entire film. Last but not least, Gemma Arterton gives one of her best performances as the moral compass of the film, a character I loved and sympathized with from start to finish. The relationship between Helen and Melanie is the heart and soul of the film.
The plot has some nice twists and turns, setting it apart even more so from traditional zombie fare. The infected have some interesting quirks, mainly hunting by smell and sound and making gagging and clicking noises when they sense prey. While being fairly tame by gorehound standards, The Girl With All the Gifts features fantastic moments of bloodshed, including a man being torn apart by a mob of infected children and Glenn Close caving in a zombie’s skull, something I never thought I would see.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a film I have been dying to see since I first saw the trailer months ago. I’m happy to say it did not disappoint. Due to its deep story, engaging characters and nice twists, The Girl With All The Gifts is a film I recommend not only to all horror fans but to anyone who is a fan of great storytelling.