UK Release Date: 23rd September 2016
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Colm McCarthy
Writer: M R Carey
Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Fisayo Akinade
Synopsis: In a dystopian future, intelligent children are kept in a secure medical facility as humanity’s only chance of averting a full-scale zombie apocalypse, but the means may not be entirely ethical.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a great zombie survival movie that, while uneven, takes an interesting approach to characterisation and perspective. We’re all familiar with the zombie genre and the tale of a group of survivors holding up to maintain the remnants of humanity. Nearly every zombie movie follows this basic premise, but what if a movie decided to be about what’s next? What if a movie didn’t even really have any interest in its own human survivors?
The Girl With All the Gifts focuses on a military bunker housing a group of children who are hybrid zombies. A fungal virus has turned the majority of the population into ravenous ‘hungries’, but these children seem to have retained their humanity. While they still crave flesh and can become ravenous when exposed to humans who aren’t wearing special repellent gel, they seem to be functioning humans. Shit, predictably, hits the fan as the base is ransacked and the survivors travel with one of these surviving children, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who may well be the key to a cure.
While the plot is a little uneven, with a noticeable dip in the middle of the movie and an odd plot development that feels reminiscent of the feral children in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it’s fascinating to see the way the movie shifts the perspective away from the human survival story. This is Melanie’s story through and through and Nanua does an excellent job in the role.
Due to the symbiotic nature of the virus, the humans are not sure whether the children are really sentient or are being controlled by the fungus itself to help its assimilation of the populace. Nanua gives a performance that could at first be seen as poorly acted, but her off-key nature has you questioning her motivation throughout the movie and really adds a lot to her character and where the story takes itself in the end.
The supporting cast also do a great job. Paddy Considine plays a grizzled soldier who is highly sceptical of the hybrid children and Gemma Arterton plays the children’s teacher, who shares a special nurturing bond with Melanie. Glenn Close also does a good job as the doctor/scientist on the cusp of a cure, even if she sometimes feels like Basil Exposition with some of her world-building explanations. The reason these characters work so well is they really fill archetypes we remember from typical zombie movies. The film is fully aware of this and it makes it easier for the audience to disconnect with them because this isn’t their story.
This is not a story about maintaining humanity or surviving. It’s about what comes next and where Melanie stands as the next evolution of the planet. This is particularly hammered home when the camera trails off during a scene in which Considine and Arterton share stories of the old world over whiskey. It’s a classic moment we see in many a zombie movie, but The Girl With All the Gifts doesn’t care about it. To this film, it’s unimportant, it’s meaningless to this world now and the movie almost feels bored of them. It’s an effective way to shift the narrative of what could have been a very formulaic survival movie.
The soundtrack should also be commended with motif music pieces that feel reminiscent of tracks from Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ that feel otherworldly and alien perpetuating Melanie’s disconnection from humanity. Overall, The Girl With All the Gifts is absolutely worth checking out. It’s a clever take on the genre, has some excellent performances and makes up for its shortcomings with clever direction and world building.
Pop or Poop?
The Girl With All the Gifts is an excellent and unique entry in the zombie genre and, while the ending goes a little too far, the plot is fascinating and its characterisation of its protagonist is strong.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.