In a dystopian future, the human race has been mostly destroyed by a weird fungal disease, except for a few communities dotted around. The infected are freed of their ability to think, and have been turned into zombies, or ‘hungries’ as they call them in the film. Humanity’s last hope is a small community of hybrid kids who lust for human flesh, yet they have kept the ability to think and feel, like every other human. They go to an educational institution at an army base in rural England, where they are the lab rats of inhumane and unethical science experiments, conducted by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close).
The resident teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) grows attached to a highly intelligent hybrid girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), and they form of a special bond. Helen has retained some of her humanity whilst every other character has succumbed to an ideology of hate. She has formed a connection with Melanie and this is sneered at by many other characters, who want to kill every thing that isn’t a pure-blooded human being. When the army base is attacked, Melanie, Dr Caldwell and Miss Justineau escape with the help of Sgt Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and take to the streets of England on a quest for survival.
Colm McCarthy’s ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ is one of the best zombie horror movies in years. The Scottish director is known on television with such credits like Doctor Who, Sherlock, Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street. In recent years, I’ve felt that the horror genre has taken a nosedive in terms of quality. It’s a movie that stands out amidst all the drivel, more so in 2016 after a summer of tripe (mostly). Based on the book by M.R Carey (also wrote the film), The Girl With All The Gifts’ spin on the fear on zombies is quite surprising because they use children. Essentially, they’re murderers with smiles. They speak like primary schoolchildren, asking questions in a softly spoken manner in one second, and in the next, they will try to eat your face off.
The story about a plague that has turned most of the British population into flesh-eating hungries is more interesting than it sounds. On paper, it sounds like just another zombie horror, but its themes and acting performances trump any of the Hollywood stuff. This is grand portrayal, not only of zombies but also of the human race and how easily we spook. But what got me is how well it fits into British identity. This is a very British film, as we follow our characters through the streets, going past high street banks and plundering local newsagents for food. The Britishness, if you will, reminds me of Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead and it’s remorseless violence reminds me of The Walking Dead. But I found the violence more savage and more animatistic than that of the AMC’s cult followed horror series.
This is one of those films that shows audiences that you don’t need a nine-figure budget to make a good film. The creatives have used their £4.4m budget practically in casting lesser known names, but these are names that are excellent in their craft. Newcomer Sennia Nanua steals every scene she’s in. She’s one of many enslaved children on an army base, as we see when she is shackled to a wheelchair. The humans that still live are infected in a manner of speaking. They may not by physically changed, but their minds have been transformed into one that is eager to kill at any moment. Fear makes enemies of us all, and that’s evident in characters like Sgt Parks (Considine). Humanity fears what it does not understand and that goes to show in pretty much every character except Melanie and Justineau.
While the cold and pragmatic Dr Caldwell (Close) sees them as lab rats to stabbed, prodded and cut up, psychologist and teacher Miss Justineau (Arterton) believes in their humanity. She still thinks they’re only children. And we see that through her character as a mother figure to Melanie. Time and time again she exhibits examples of the maternal extinct. But at the same time, she shows us she has what it takes to survive. Essentially, it’s prepare for the worst but hope for the best. We see how good-natured she is when she tells the tales of Odysseus from her book of Greek mythology. When the compound is taken, Melanie’s true nature comes into question and here we see the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personalities of the human race represented through Justineau (Jekyll) and Caldwell (Hyde). When it comes down to it, it shows that Melanie is the most human out of all them.
Riddled with strong performances with a thought-provoking plot, and themes that make you question your own existence, The Girl With All The Gifts is a must watch, not only for fans of zombie horror but for those who love films with cultural significance. Films fans will love it, but Brits will love it more as we see things that we can point at and say “I’ve been there” and “oh, remember when…”, from London’s BT Tower, to high street retailers like Waitrose and Waterstones. With all that being said, I don’t think anyone outside of cinephiles, film fans or young adult audiences will find any praise for this film.