Zombie stories are nothing new. Some prefer their zombies to be fast; some prefer them to be slow. The way zombies came to be is always different. When facing the trailer for The Girl with All the Gifts, you immediately feel it is the run of the mill zombie apocalypse movie. Wrong. This film is something new.
When the movie opens it immediately grips the audience with a tense score that is loud, forceful, and focuses you with narrowing shots that fixate you to the dystopian world we are witnessing. Some movies manage to persuade you that you are about to see something uniquely special in the first couple of scenes, and The Girl With All The Gifts is one of them.
Zombies in this narrative are called “hungries”. The story begins by presenting a world that has already gone through the horrors of an apocalypse, and this is the aftermath. From the start, you are following Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a young girl imprisoned in a milItary prison/ lab amongst other children. These kids are immune to most of the side effects that the virus brings. They can think and feel and do what most humans can, but they still crave flesh and blood. There is only one reason the children are cruelly imprisoned – to find a cure. Eventually, the military base becomes overrun by zombies, leaving Melanie to assist an ambitious scientist, and a caring teacher on a mission for survival.
The film ensures that you feel sorry for the children from the outset, and you question the principles of their imprisonment. Despite their undesirable condition, should they be sacrificed for the greater good? As an audience, your attachment for Melanie is cleverly constructed by the dialogue and direction the scenes place her in. She is polite, kind and very intelligent despite the hate and disgust set on her. Your feelings for her become embedded in the form of the teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) who forms a bond with Melanie which is aggressively frowned upon by others. You come to the conclusion very quickly that this world is very much in despair, and has moved beyond reason. This world is depressed.
As for the film’s interpretation of zombies, it provides scenes that will make The Walking Dead feel it has been rivalled. These zombies are ferociously unstoppable when they smell blood, but become docile and relaxed if nothing is to be eaten. You also find it weirdly disturbing watching a young girl bite so aggressively into blood and flesh, but because the film fixes you to the screen you have to restrain yourself from looking away.
The film throws the characters into a variety of desperate scenes where they are hurried for survival, and the way the scenes assemble makes you feel very tense for most of the film. The tension you feel wouldn’t have been felt if it was not for the score, so special credit has to be handed to Cristobal Tapia de Veer who provides aggressive yet sometimes ambient sounds which merge well with the scenes.
The film feels oddly like a coming of age story for Melanie in the world she is new to, and the performance from Sennia Nanua is outstanding. Some of the scenes look awkward for a young actress, however you cannot fault her in any scene. Due to her performances and the way the film presents itself, you can feel her thinking all the way through, and you are very much on her side till the very end, which results in the audience getting hit hard by a shocking conclusion. I have to stress however that the character Melanie would not have been as effective without the teacher played by Gemma Arterton. Her display of affection and human emotion pushes you further on board for rooting for Melanie. The teacher is probably the only character that allows her emotions to come through in every life changing decision. The military characters show so much distaste for these particular children that you have to have one character caring for them or the film would not work.
Some have argued that this is just another zombie movie, and I have to disagree wholeheartedly. It could easily have been ‘just a zombie film’, but in all honesty, your interest in the zombies is lower than your care for the characters. Although most of your feelings are forced to care for Melanie, you care about the group of survivors as a whole by the end of the film, and the zombies are just the secondary storyline.
Director Colm McCarthy has apparently taken the book and used his imagination to construct a gripping, tense and breathtaking film that changes the genre entirely. It could easily have been action filled, but he instead ensured that the narrative was articulated beautifully on the screen. This film deserves a wider release, and if it is at a screening near you, then I’d advise to watch it. The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the best films of 2016.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.