Just when I thought the zombie apocalypse movie might be in need of a rest, someone comes along and proves that there’s still undead life in the genre yet.
M.R. Carey is a British writer of comic books, novels and films. He has gained acclaim for his work on 2000 AD, Lucifer, Hellblazer, X-Men: Legacy, Wolverine: Origins and The Unwritten. In June 2014 he published a novel, The Girl With All the Gifts, based on his Edgar Award winning short story “Iphigenia In Aulis”. Carey had also written a screenplay in tandem with the book, which was placed on the 2014 Brit List, a film-industry-compiled list of the best unproduced screenplays in British film. Veteran TV director Colm McCarthy came aboard as director for his first major feature. The movie was originally titled She Who Brings Gifts but was later re-titled, matching the book.
The movie opens on a prison cell, and a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), going through a ritual of waking up, getting herself secured into a wheelchair while being watched by nervous armed soldiers. Melanie, and other children like her, are wheeled along to a classroom where a teacher, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) teaches them about science and classical history, and a biologist, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) experiments on them.
The children seem all civilised and mild-mannered, with no reason for them to be treated this way, until we see via the abrasive Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) that the adults are all wearing scent neutralisers, and that when the children get an actual whiff of living flesh, they get a case of the Munchies.
Or rather, the Hungries, as the zombies are called. Years ago, a fungal infection swept across the world, leaving the expected pockets of survivors in base camps surrounded by mindless infected. But some children, whose mothers had been infected while they were still in the womb, appear to have retained a human level of intelligence – but remain a threat to normal people. Even Melanie, who has developed an affection for the maternal Justineau.
Dr Caldwell believes she can synthesise a cure from the children, even if it means dissecting a few of them. Justineau goes to rescue Melanie, just as the base is overrun by Hungries in an impressive action scene. Melanie, who proves to be unreadable to the Hungries, ends up saving Justineau, and they escape in an armoured car along with Caldwell, Sgt Parks and some zombie fodder. Their plan is to somehow get through London to another base, where Caldwell still plans on dissecting Melanie.
The middle section proves to be a remarkably tense sequence. The Hungries, when not pursuing food, remain still in the sun, necessitating the survivors walk quietly and cautiously around them, seeking shelter and letting Melanie out without her Hannibal Lecter mask on occasion to appease her own hungers via stray cats and pigeons while she scouts ahead for safe passage through the city.
During one of these reconnoitres, Melanie encounters a group of feral children – second generation like herself, but uneducated, though possessing a cunning all their own. They also encounter giant vegetation with seed pods, pods which, if they hatch, will spread the infection through the air, and doom humanity. At least, humanity as we know it…
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is an impressive movie, not just for its pace and scale for a low-budget movie, but also the acting chops involved, and the intelligent script. We’re not told what the hell is going on with the children at the start, especially Melanie, who proves smiling and engaging to all the people pointing guns at her, having grown up among them. Newcomer Sennia Nanua proves adept at moving between the wide-eyed delight of racing through the abandoned houses and playing with abandoned toys, to giving in to her feral side and munching on cats and pigeons. Paddy Considine as Sgt. Parks also works well here, his initial paranoia and hostility towards Melanie evolving into first into a grudging respect for the girl’s abilities, to an affection. The other characters are more limited, and we rarely learn about their lives before the outbreak.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS has been appearing in selected theatres throughout the world. Hopefully it will be available on DVD and VOD. The trailer is below.
Director: Colm McCarthy
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The Guy With All the GIFs. Especially the rude ones.