After many, many years of zombie flicks, it takes something with real skill or a smart twist to make it worth taking note of a new entry. Based on the book of the same name by M. R. Carey, who also adapted the screenplay, The Girl With All The Gifts is a superb British offering. Thankfully the generally low budget is masked with some great performances and heart-stopping set pieces.
The general world is pretty familiar for the genre. Humanity has been all but wiped out by a fungal plague. Those infected by spores become mindless flesh devouring killers dubbed ‘hungries’ (your '28 Days Later' fast-paced type, not the shuffling George Romero style). But we don’t start with this information.
Instead, we see Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a frightened child who is restrained, mistreated and feared. Who is also incidentally held captive in a military base. She is wheeled into a classroom with other bound children and so begins a tentative lesson. Except these children are more than just frightened, they are also dangerous.
The movie spins your expectations once it reveals that the children are also ‘hungries’. And yet somehow they have retained their intelligence. Nanua is superb in this role. She radiates barely concealed rebellion, and yet shows fear when her lethal and feral side comes to the fore.
Supporting her is a well-rounded cast including Gemma Arterton, a teacher who tries to encourage the children’s humanity by teaching them about art and mythology. Glenn Close is a scientist who would much rather dissect the children to see how they can co-exist with the infection.
And Paddy Considine is a no-nonsense soldier who slowly becomes more and more protective of Melanie. The Girl With All The Gifts is hugely affecting because of the depth of characterisation and strength of its cast.
Although hungry hordes and gore do play a part in this movie, it is the thoughtfulness that will stay with you. Once the first setting inevitably falls, the fleeing survivors still shackle Melanie and strap a Hannibal Lector style bite mask around her. But it isn’t long before she is free to roam around; helping the gang, but feeding on stray animals to stay her bloodlust.
The movie muses on whether humanity has had its time. Is what’s left worth saving, or is there an evolution of the species going on? More children arrive, operating like intelligent but lethal ‘Lord Of The Flies’ pack hunters. And Carey’s script suggests that maybe the world is theirs now.
All the moving around of the gang leads to a superbly climactic conclusion. Most zombie movies end with the cast either dead or in some hopefully safe shelter. The Girl With All The Gifts takes a bolder step, toying with your sympathies towards the characters and how they shape the world around them. If you like zombie movies, watch this movie. If you don’t, then there is so much good material going on here that you should still watch this film!
Words by Michael Record