You wouldn’t be wrong to say that the zombie-horror genre has seemingly run out of fresh ideas as of late, but thankfully Colm McCarthy’s British-set take on the genre can prove us all wrong.
The Girl With All the Gifts throws viewers straight into the dystopian, post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world from the outset. The movie begins with the introduction of Melanie, portrayed remarkably by the talented Sennia Nanua, a seemingly-normal young girl who’s both kind and cooperative. Melanie, along with the handful of other children in the film, are imprisoned in an underground bunker in an unorthodox manner. They are degraded, belittled and metaphorically spat on by the soldiers securing the facility, and treated like animals. They aren’t to be touched, interacted with (apart from their school-like lessons) or talked to, which from the initial perspective is very odd indeed.
These children are, however, inhuman. They aren’t your everyday polite and down-to-earth kids, they are in fact ‘hungries’, a soft term to describe your familiar zombie. Of course, these children aren’t the slow-walking, brain dead zombies you would presume. On the surface, you would expect them to be nothing short of ordinary, yet their lust for flesh is shown excellently when Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) allows one of the children to smell his forearm, and shockingly enough, one of the shackled children goes for it. As a result, these ‘special’ children are seen as the only hope for a cure. Well, until the facility is compromised by the horde of ‘hungries’ outside its gates, that is.
It’s fair to say that this movie shares a lot of similarities to its predecessor 28 Days Later, another zombie post-apocalyptic film set in London, and very much like this film, The Girl with All the Gifts also succeeds in bring fresh ideas to the zombie genre. The narrative mainly consists of a lot of walking across barren landscapes vegetated by fungal infestations and its undead inhabitants, and whilst this does substantially slow down the pace of the movie, you can’t help but be in awe of its compelling story-arc and strong performances that accompany the movie.
There is evidently an ongoing theme of conflict between the characters in the movie, a conflict fuelled by contrasting moral personalities. On one hand you have Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), the seemingly ‘mad’ scientist seeking that well-needed cure, and on the other hand you have Gemma Arterton’s Helen Justineau, who sees Melanie as a child rather than a test subject. This sense of conflict occurs throughout the film’s entirety, and what’s most interesting about it is that we are thrown between this tug-of-war of moral righteousness. We, as respectable human beings, sympathise with Melanie, and why shouldn’t we? She’s continually dragged around and berated by her superiors, but you can understand why, no matter how hard it is to admit. She is far from human, shown through an extremely hard to watch scene of her consuming a live cat, and there’s times in the movie where we ask ourselves who we are supposed to side with.
But what makes this movie stand out from its fellow zombie movie counterparts is that we are shown the zombie-ridden world through the eyes of what should be the antagonist. We are forced to see the subconscious humanity that still lies within the roots of Melanie. She wants to be a little girl, wearing new clothes and playing around, but she’s at war with her own temptations to devour those around her, and whilst we deeply sympathise with her unfortunate circumstances, we are also terrified over her instability.
The Girl with All The Gifts isn’t a scary movie, though. It doesn’t so much as scare you stiff-less as it does shock you. The movie is extremely suspenseful, and is also very difficult to watch at times; from the zombie-baby flesh being consumed by a live rat to a horde of children tearing apart a human, you are going to disturbed when watching these scenes unfold. However, this is a credit to the realism of the movie. It’s very difficult to create a zombie-apocalypse narrative that seems believable to viewers, and this is one thing that this movie does an excellent job in achieving. After all, if we ever find ourselves in an environment oppressed by undead occupants, you’re goddamn right there’s going to be gore. And lot’s of it.
A Horrific and Thrilling Experience!
All in all, McCarthy’s adaptation of Mike Carey’s novel is perhaps the best zombie-apocalypse movie we’ve had since 28 Days Later. If that’s not a compliment – I’m not quite sure what is.