Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Colm McCarthy
Writer: Mike Carey
Producer: Camille Gatin, Angus Lamont
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Anamaria Marinca, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua
A scientist, soldier, and teacher find their ideologies at odds over a gifted girl who is key to curing a zombie-like pandemic.
You’ve seen it before. Post-apocalyptic near future overrun by hungry hordes of infected humans. Moral quandaries weighing hardline greater goods against in-the-moment emotions. “It’s just a cut, I’m not bitten” standoffs turning comrades into enemies on opposite ends of a gun. “The Girl with All the Gifts” has every earmark of a typical zombie thriller alright.
What you haven’t seen nearly as often however, is the storytelling soul thoughtfully taking this tale further than duller dystopian fantasies dare go. Sitting in plain sight between beats of desperate doctors anxious to unlock a cure, hammerheaded military men seeing every situation as a nail, and strobing jaws of bloody teeth tearing at frightened flesh is a complex coming-of-age study that is both intimately personal and philosophically far reaching. “The Girl with All the Gifts” asks, what if a wasteland shaped one’s wonder years? And what would that worldview look like from the infected eyes of a sentient subject experiencing it firsthand?
For years, a deadly fungal infection has been turning afflicted humans into mindless madmen en masse. Intellect instantly devoured by a driving desire to consume living flesh, those who’ve turned are dubbed “hungries,” proving yet again that zombie fiction rarely exists inside other zombie fiction. Why else are they always referred to as “walkers,” “shufflers,” “roamers,” “hungries,” or anything other than the obvious?
The key to pushing back against the pandemic may reside with a curious group of children. Discovered as newborns at the outbreak’s onset, these orphans are partially immune to the pathogen. Raised for years under heavy guard in a military compound, the children are able to think, interact with their environment, and keep urges to feed under control as long as their handlers wear gel to block their skin’s scent.
Soldiers such as Sgt. Parks treat them like abominations, restrained to chairs with suspicious crosshairs fixed at all times. The children are nothing more than test subjects for Dr. Caldwell, whose vaccine research demands occasional dissection of less-than-willing participants. All of this understandably chills Helen Justineau, the teacher in charge of the children’s education. She doesn’t see them as monsters at all.
Emerging as the star pupil with her eager mind, innocent outlook, and constantly courteous demeanor is Melanie. Helen and Melanie can’t help but connect with one another, much to the distaste of Sgt. Parks, who would prefer Melanie were dead, as well as Dr. Caldwell, who would prefer to cut Melanie open.
Helen, Parks, and Caldwell’s conflicting ideologies are soon set to collide in an even more consequential confrontation. Because when hordes of hungries scatter these survivors from safety, determining what to do with Melanie quickly becomes priority number one.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” may not completely flip the zombie apocalypse script. But it is knocked unusually askew enough to where one particular zombie is essentially the star. The closest connection might be if “Day of the Dead” played from Bub’s perspective, provided Bub was self-aware and articulate.
Young actress Sennia Nanua is the ensemble’s standout. That’s no easy feat since she is paired with Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, and/or Paddy Considine in nearly all of her scenes. Whether it is Nanua’s presence or simply her performance, Melanie becomes a naturally magnetic personality pulling sympathetic heartstrings without fishing artificially through overdramatized acting.
Everything else could remain the same and the film would leave little lasting impact if Melanie’s role doesn’t read right. She is the live or die by element determining the story’s success at seeping beyond eyes and ears and into the heart and the head. Following Nanua’s lead and servicing her character with support, the cast is the crucial key keeping engagement energized.
A slightly milky jaundice accentuates the setting’s grimness. Vegetation is visibly reclaiming the earth from invasive concrete structures. This is a lived-in wasteland based in scientific reality, allowing further access for the human themes powering plotting to hit home in a resonant way.
Where are there warts? In addition to some checkbox scenes Xeroxed from countless undead epics, digital bullet squibs are as bad as they are in those same TV shows/films employing the sore thumb tactic. It’s a minor detail, yet it’s hard not to scrunch your nose when the movie gets the major ones right.
Only minutes into the movie, the music poked at my memory bank so fiercely that when it finally hit what TV show I was reminded of, I immediately had to check. Semi-shocked that my subconscious smelled a connection despite the distance between viewings, I concocted this conclusion:
Although Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score is distinctively haunting, there are three possibilities to explain how he went about writing the music. One, the filmmakers specifically asked for a soundtrack similar to his work on the TV series “Utopia.” Two, de Veer repurposed compositions created for “Utopia.” Or three, de Veer’s style is so unique that “The Girl with All the Gifts” simply can’t help but sound like “Utopia.”
(The music is memorable, but pair the two together and see if they don’t seemingly come from the same vein.)
Even with a long road to many of its reveals, “The Girl with All the Gifts” is never a labor because intrigue along the way consistently fills the satisfaction quotient. The film is a terrific alternative for audiences tired of “The Walking Dead’s” persistent bleakness or empty action of other zombie movies. Like a hungry on a human neck, “The Girl with All the Gifts” offers something meaty and meaningful that can be chewed on as entertainment or introspection. That something is the notion that extinction and evolution might not be mutually exclusive.
Review Score: 90