A radical and brilliant futuristic zombie movie
Easily the best thing to happen to the undead since ‘28 Days Later’, Colm McCarthy’s ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ injects some life into the tired old zombie movie with fresh ideas, some poetic imagery and a dark end-of-civilisation aftertaste. Here the monsters are called ‘hungries’ – fast, jaw-snapping things that don’t constantly moan or gasp. Most of the time, they’re standing completely still, as if asleep, waiting for the dinner bell. It’s an eerie revision to the usual lumbering.
But the plot itself races ahead from the get-go. In a military bunker in post-apocalyptic England, precocious children like Melanie (Sennia Nanua) are strapped into wheelchairs and escorted by armed guards to their classroom. Soon we learn why: the merest whiff of human flesh sends these kids into a writhing, drooling frenzy. They’re human experiments, pint-sized victims of the crazy-making fungal infection that’s killed the world above.
MR Carey’s screenplay, adapted from his own 2014 novel, launches a steady stream of off-kilter surprises. When the base is overrun by a sickening attack – one that puts the carnage in ‘The Walking Dead’ to shame – Melanie is smuggled out by a tense, bickering trio: her favourite teacher (Gemma Arterton), a surly, battle-weary army officer (Paddy Considine) and the all-business scientist close to a vaccine (Glenn Close). This is the most formidable horror cast in years.
‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ then becomes a riot of surreal visions: Melanie is strapped to a chair on top of a truck (it’s too risky to let her ride inside), while the survivors cruise through a quiet forest. It must be years since the end of the world, judging from all the foliage. As this makeshift family bonds, Melanie takes on more responsibilities, hunting down resources for the group. The movie is a coming-of-age story, but whose age is coming? That’s the profound question we’re left with, in a stellar adaptation that balances gore with black humour, ethical dilemma, hope and – yes – plenty of brains.
Cast and crew