It’s about ten years since the Zombie apocalypse and a group of children being held prisoner and experimented on in a UK military medical facility may hold the answers to what happens next. So begins The Girl With All The Gifts, a more cerebral than usual zombie movie. It’s a film that forgoes the word zombie; like The Walking Dead uses “Walkers” The Girl With All The Gifts uses “Hungries” instead – and in fact these (fast running) zombie types may actually still be alive – just with their bodies ravaged with a disease which makes them no longer human.
Of course the world broadens from the facility (the military are notoriously bad at keeping the terror at bay in these movies) and becomes a curiously thought provoking study in belonging. Melanie is both human and not, and those keeping her locked up are hopelessly out of place as they are forced to enter London looking for assistance. The city belongs to the Hungries now. What place does humanity have in a world where it has been all but wiped out?
As for the story, it’s nice to find a movie where the apocalypse happened so long ago that towns and cities are coated with a patina of moss and overgrown weeds. This is a world being reclaimed by nature – what’s to say the Hungries aren’t part of the that reclamation process? Is Earth snatching the planet back from the humans? The disease controlling the Hungries seems to suggest so.
The chief selling point of the film is the excellent casting. Paddy Considine, Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close are all very good, but the central “girl with all the gifts” is absolutely astonishing. The performance from newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie is amazingly, heartbreakingly good. She more than holds her own with the rest of the cast, indeed the she dominates all the scenes she is in. It is a delicate and commanding performance.
Adapted from his own novel by Mike Carey, the movie is for the most part a successfully suspenseful and intelligent post-apocalyptic thriller. It subverts the cliches of the drama in some ways and plays up to and improves on them in others. The only bum note in the whole movie is a group of feral children, who appear like characters lifted from a kids apocalyptic tea-time TV drama from the 1980s. Dressed in rags and with wild hair they are unable to communicate through language so bark and growl and snap at each other. Far from being scary, they appear a teensy bit comic. And that’s a shame, because what they represent is terrifying.
The Girl With All The Gifts is out in cinemas on Friday 23rd September and should be applauded for finding something new to do with a genre which was started to feel a little worn out.