A horror drama with ethical and provocative questions at its core, The Girl with All the Gifts finds new life in the zombie horror genre with fine acting, scares and a surprising intelligence.
Some time in the future, most of mankind has been overrun by a virulent fungal disease that turns the sufferer into a flesh craving zombie. These people are known as “hungries” by others. In a secret underground army base, a second generation of these creatures in the form of young children are taught. Unlike their savage relatives, these kids can think and learn, but also have a craving for flesh. Humans have a certain blocker gel that masks the smell of human flesh, but that is still no long term guarantee. The story mainly focuses on one such child known as Melanie( Sennia Nanua), who is immensely gifted, polite and eager to learn. The growling Sergeant Parks( Paddy Considine) keeps things running in a brusque way, while head scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell( Glenn Close)experiments on the zombie children in a search for a cure to the disease. Although most see the children as just mere monsters, teacher Helen Justineau( Gemma Arterton) treats them with respect and compassion which puts her in opposition with both. Just as Dr. Caldwell is making some breakthrough, the facility is attacked by hungries. In the confusion, Melanie, Justineau, Caldwell and Parks survive and head for what they hope will be safety. But as tensions mount and Melanie is fought over, it becomes clear that there is no easy answer to what’s going on. But is Melanie the salvation of destruction of mankind in the grand scheme of things? And just how long is she to be trusted as the world around her crumbles and slips into a worse state than it already is?
Colm McCarthy is a director who clearly wants to bring that something different to the zombie horror sub genre. And that he does with this film that is both eerily tense and reflective on thematic material. I like how things start out mysterious and gradually we begin to understand the horrifying vision of the future. And once it hits the half an hour mark, intensity reigns and the pace quickens considerably backing up the horror credentials. One can make successful parallels with 28 Days Later and with good reason, for both are exemplary entries into zombie horror with more on its mind than just action and blood. Not that there isn’t action or blood as is envisioned in kinetic style and blood soaked horror, like the standout sequence of the hungries attaching the facility with a ferocity akin to a war movie. These events sit nicely along with the deeper thematic value of the piece. Considering The Girl with All the Gifts wasn’t made with the biggest budget, it never shows as it’s a gorgeously and hauntingly visual film. This extends particularly to its version of London, one in which overgrown plant life has taken over like a vicious jungle of vines that will prove fatal to those who can’t survive. And lets just say there is plenty of meat to chew over( pardon the pun.) The battle between good and evil is blurred considerably and admirably. No one is clear cut bad or good, least of all the eponymous Girl who is a mixture of both. The Girl with All the Gifts asks us to feel sympathy for her but like most of the characters, keep a certain sense of worry about her true nature and whether it’s just a matter of fate that she becomes rabid. In fact, there’s a certain tragedy attached to Melanie. You witness that she wishes to be like everyone else but is cursed from it, Some might say some of it is typical zombie fare and while there are going to be some cliched moments in here( no one said it was flawless), but what the film accomplishes is something with more heart and smarts than your average flick in this genre. A shimmering and reverberating score should rightfully be praised. It hums and throbs with an alarming intensity and haunting aura.
As the titular Girl, Sennia Nanua is a revelation in her first main role. For such a young actress acting alongside more seasoned co-stars, Nanua shows no sign of nerves and turns in a layered performance that is at once sympathetic and menacing. And what a cast it is. Gemma Arterton, of pleasing, warm face and expressive eyes, beautifully portrays the teacher who treats her charges as if they were just average children. In her eyes, although they are dangerous, they still matter and it is a fine.y judged, emotional performance from Gemma Arterton. Glenn Close( a superb actress of the highest order) is once more on amazing form as the ruthlessly determined scientist who seems heartless but possesses some care within her. Close doesn’t make her a villain and although she’s questionable as a character, it’s that flawed nature that Close gets across so well. Paddy Considine is on hand for sarcastic, aggressive lines and action as the skilled soldier navigating a crew of at odds survivors through a hellish London.
A chilling, thrilling but also deep examination of moral dilemmas set against a world gone mad, The Girl with All the Gifts discovers inventive and astute ways to blend post-apocalyptic horror and sensitive drama about ethical and ambiguous questions on humanity, science and the complex link between good and evil.