With a hypnotic, pulsing soundtrack, The Girl With All The Gifts begins with gritty intrigue. Set in an army base prison, a bunch of kids are being held in cells and can only be let out if they’re strapped into wheel chairs – Hannibal Lecter-style. They attend class and seem like regular kids – but don’t get too close – or these kids will gnaw your face off. Apparently there is a fungus infection that is being transferred through bodily fluids, once infected you’ll turn into one of the “hungries”, scathing, rampant zombies.
The fun kicks in soon enough as an infection breaks out on the army base. Our small group of survivors is led by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), two military guys (Paddy Considine, Fisayo Akinade), Helen (Gemma Arterton), a teacher at the base and newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the Girl With All The Gifts. Melanie is special because she is highly intelligent and self aware, allowing her to be semi-in control of her hunger. Once they abandon the base, they set forth on a journey to London but will need to wad through lots of hungries along the way.
With so many zombie movies being made, the challenge is how to keep them interesting. These “hungries” are a bit different as they aren’t always in full hunger mode. They fall into a deep zombie sleep once no longer stimulated and are triggered by motion and scent. This behavior has been used in previous zombie flicks, but in this film the creepy motionless un-dead are used to their full potential, and makes for some really tense scenes.
The overall maternal theme that runs throughout the film is an interesting one. Helen is a caring, and compassionate teacher who becomes very protective over Melanie, despite the danger she represents. She believes that the human side will win if Melanie is nurtured properly. Dr. Caldwell, played by a steely Glenn Close is the no-nonsense biologist, who will do anything in the name of science and is hell-bent on finding a cure. She only cares for Melanie because she needs her brain to make a vaccine and thus treats her like a lab rat.
It’s a purposeful gender switch from the stereotypical male mad scientist. When Glenn Close comes in contact with a zombie baby, her reaction is not one of maternal love (as seen in the remake of Dawn of the Dead) but one of horror. It’s shocking to see a woman behave like this, as society constantly pushes the warm and maternal stereotype onto women. As horror theory proves, what we repress comes back as the monster, and the film makes us question who the real monster is in this story.
Adapted from a novel by Mike Carey, this is a decent zombie movie with a bit of twist on the genre. The story starts off strong but loses its bite by the half way mark. The film meanders, never fully developing some characters or the underlying theme, resulting in an ending that feels abrupt and disjointed. The battle in The Girl With All The Gifts is not man vs. zombie but man vs. nature, or rather, woman vs. nature. Who wins in the end feels ultimately unsatisfying, possibly because the character with the most emotional depth in this film is the Girl with all Gifts herself: a zombie. Yet, despite this, she is devoid of conflict and as a result, we are left feeling like the hollow hungries: unfulfilled and wanting more.
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Sennia Nanua, Paddy Considine, Fisayo Akinade