The Girl With All The Gifts Review

The Girl With All The Gifts

I’m pretty sure I’ve previously made the joke that the zombie genre is in need of resuscitation.

The truth is, it never died.

Which doesn’t mean that it couldn’t do with a bit of image-reinvention every few years or so.

Colm McCarthy’s adaptation of M R Carey’s dystopian novel The Girl With All The Gifts does just that, taking familiar undead sights and sounds and putting a new narrative spin on it all.

The film opens with fairly disturbing scenes set within a large and windowless industrial complex in which several children are incarcerated and only released from their cells under heavily armed guard. The guards, all adults, hold a strong disdain for the children for some reason.

Curiosity? Piqued.

The children attend daily classes with a kindly teacher named Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). One of the children, Melanie (Sienna Nanua), is particularly inquisitive and does not appear to have let circumstances dampen her spirit.

We also encounter Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) who seems more than a little sinister.

Later, we learn that the industrial complex is a military stronghold and happens to be one of the last bastions against hordes of marauding, and incidentally fast-moving, ‘hungries’ (read: zombies) who seem to have taken over the planet. Or at least England.

It’s also revealed that the children, although intelligent and articulate, all harbour zombie-like tendencies, and the guards’ initial reactions no longer seem strange.

There is then a zombie – sorry – ‘hungry’ attack on the complex, resulting in forced evacuation by a small band of survivors including Melanie, Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell and head guard Sergeant Barnes (a gruff Paddy Considine).

The second act follows the surviving group’s efforts to find refuge and, inverting the events of Danny Boyle’s zombie classic, make their way to London.

The zombies’ speed is reminiscent of 28 Days Later, the biting sound effect reminded me of World War Z, and the plot features elements of both. So, as I said, the ingredients are all familiar. Yet McCarthy and Carey manage to mix it all into a new concoction.

This is mainly achieved by focusing on Melanie, played superbly by newcomer Nanua. Melanie’s journey straddles both sides of the human-zombie divide and injects something fresh amidst all the decaying flesh. You will simultaneously identify with her humanity and fear her less-human aspects.

Considine and Arterton are solid and their roles quite rightly take a backseat to Nanua as the story unfolds, and Close brings depth to Caldwell, a character who ultimately means well but is more than a little flawed in her execution. Pun intended.

Add to this, the extremely unsettling score from Cristobal Tapia de Veer and you have the makings of a genre classic.

True, the ending may not be to everyone’s taste, and The Girl With All The Gifts could easily jettison the final epilogue scene. But like all good zombie films, in addition to being a good monster movie, it does try to say something about society: at what point does something different become the norm, and vice versa?

Box office takings may prompt a sequel, even if the story does not, and I for one would welcome further instalments.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

September 2016