A group of soldiers are tasked with protecting a young girl who may hold the key to the survival of mankind, in this British zombie horror.
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Fisayo Akinade
Country: United Kingdom
Release date: September 23, 2016
Running time: 111 mins
A British zombie movie with extra brains, The Girl With All The Gifts is based on a novel by Mike Carey, who also wrote the screenplay.
The film marks an accomplished second theatrical feature for veteran TV director Colm McCarthy, who clearly has something of an affinity for British sci-fi, having helmed episodes of Doctor Who, as well as SyFy’s upcoming series Krypton.
As for the zombies themselves (named “Hungries”, in the style of The Walking Dead’s “Walkers”), they are clearly descended from the speedy little blighters in 28 Days Later, as they can put quite a shift on when required.
Layered and complex
Set several years after a fungus-related zombie apocalypse has devastated the UK, the film begins in a fortified concrete bunker where a group of children, including inquisitive ten year-old Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), are kept under lock and key, attending daily classes with kind-hearted teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).
When the bunker is overrun by Hungries, Helen narrowly escapes with Melanie and the pair head for a rumoured sanctuary, accompanied by suspicious-but-protective Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) and cold-hearted scientist Dr Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), who believes Melanie’s blood and spinal fluid may hold the key to a cure for the virus.
Sennia Nanua (only twelve at the time of filming) makes a striking debut as Melanie, continually asking politely phrased questions as she attempts to adjust to her new surroundings and forge connections with those around her.
As such, her complex, layered performance is intriguingly reminiscent of Millie Bobby Brown’s work as Eleven in Netflix’s Stranger Things, as you’re constantly wondering what’s going on under the surface.
As the emotional centre of the film, Arterton is extremely affective as Helen, while Considine is reliably excellent as the increasingly conflicted Parks.
However, the supporting honours are roundly stolen by Close, who exudes a chilling intensity as the pathologically driven scientist who may or may not represent Earth’s last hope.
Carey’s script makes good use of all the usual zombie genre staples, but adds some nice new touches such as a blocker gel that effectively hides the characters from the Hungries by neutralising scent, as well as making arresting use of the fungus angle, particularly in the final act.
Similarly, McCarthy maintains a suitably tense atmosphere throughout and pulls off some memorably creepy sequences, most notably when the group encounter a pack of feral kids.
As with George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the film benefits considerably from an underlying metaphor, and one of the script’s biggest pleasures is the way in which it reveals its allegorical intentions, with a terrific scene that gives the film its biggest gut-punch moment.
It would be unfair to elaborate any further, but suffice it to say, it’s the scene you’ll be talking about in the pub afterwards.
One of the best British movies of the year, this is an engaging and provocative zombie flick with a stand-out debut performance from Sennia Nanua.