The Girl With All The Gifts FILM REVIEW
Release: 23 September
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine
Here’s a zombie film with a difference. Not because the brainless killer hordes aren’t actually, technically zombies. The brainless killer hordes in 28 Days Later weren’t technically zombies either, but that doesn’t stop that film being lumped in with zombies movies for want of a better genre. And neither will it stop The Girl With All The Gifts from the same fate.
In fact, there are a lot of similarities between 28 Days Later and The Girl With All The Gifts. Both are British. Both have a streak of black humour. Both have a heavy military involvement. Both never use the word zombie and come up with other terms instead (the infected and the hungries, respectively). Both have a kind of SF rationale behind the zombies/infected/hungries.
But The Girl With All The Gifts has a special secret, just like Melanie, the “girl” in the title. It has a proper plot, with a proper ending and resolution and everything. Now that’s rare for zombie movies (even 28 Days Later), where usually the best you can hope for is a couple of characters making it out alive while the zombie apocalypse continues in the background. You don’t tend to get cures, or zombie genocide, or peace pacts between humans and the undead. There’s rarely, as the Americans would say, “closure”.
But the Girl With All The Gifts is clever, just like Melanie, the “girl” in the title. It starts as a mystery, it becomes an action movie and ends as… another genre entirely, even while it’s horror throughout, as well. There are some great moments of gore, jump-scares and psychological terror here, including one brilliant shot of a zombie approaching fast from a distance, which we can see over a character’s shoulder, but which they’re unaware of because there’s a (pretty useless) wall of glass between them. Make no mistake, this is a film made by people who know what an audience wants from a zombie flick (there’s also a spectacular pitched battle between military and hungries); it’s just that they give the audience something else as well.
It starts with Melanie (Sennia Nanua), one of a number of children who have grown up within some mysterious, windowless institution. They sleep in cells and whenever they’re let out for lessons they’re kept strapped by their feet and hands to wheelchairs. The military guards seem scared of them. Their teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton in a chunky jumper) clearly pities them. The local mad scientist, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) just wants to dissect them.
And she’s just about to cut Melanie open when all hell breaks loose and the place is destroyed by the hungries. Melanie, Miss Justineau, Caldwell and some guards – including Paddy Considine’s less than touchy-feely Sergeant Parks – escape in a truck. The trouble is, Melanie is a new breed of hungry; intelligent and emotional but with the capacity to return to flesh-eating type if she desperately needs a snack. Parks wants to kill her, but Caldwell is convinced she can use Melanie to find a cure.
And so starts the road movie part of the film, which seems all comfortably familiar… until the film evolves once again into something else.
For a low budget Brit horror film, The Girl With All The Gifts often punches about its weight. There are some memorable images, lots of good shocks and that battle scene we mentioned is a true highlight. Mike Carey adapts the film from his own clever, witty novel and most of his changes make sense in porting the story from one medium to another, though there are a couple of cringey moments of classic horror-movie-supporting-character stupidity.
The film also benefits from a great cast who really commit to material that could too easily have leant itself to hammy performances. Glenn Close is especially good, fleshing out admirably what is essentially a one-note character. Sennia Nanua is excellent as Melanie; she’s like a scarily intense savant, who has to pull off some really hard-hitting moments as well.
There’s also a rich vein of black humour and some killer lines; you can probably guess the response to, “Do you fancy a cat?” but the deadpan delivery makes it a peach. Pet lovers, though, may suffer intense trauma at various points.
There is some creakiness. Occasionally the lack of Hollywood resources do result in scenes that look like a 1980s Australian TV version of Lord Of The Flies, with lots of frizzy-haired kids hissing at each other. There’s the occasional heavy-handed one-liner or barely-disguised piece of exposition. The musical score is downright hideous; scenes that could have benefitted from subtle music (or, indeed, silence) instead have to suffer with something that sounds like boulders beating Clannad to death in an industrial tumble drier. Maybe the Blu-ray will have a “use different soundtrack” option.
Overall, though, The Girl With All The Gifts is well worth any horror fans’ time and money. Though you may skip mushrooms on your pizza for a while.
Review by Dave Golder