The Girl With All The Gifts centers around a post-apocalyptic world where all but a small few humans have been infected by a fungal disease that transforms them into creatures called Hungries. Snapping, biting things, Hungries are basically zombies who crave human flesh. Amidst the chaos, one of the only remaining refuges for humanity, a military bunker, is experimenting with a set of children, the smartest of which is Melanie (played by newcomer Sennia Nanua).
Melanie adores her teacher, Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arterton, Byzantium, Quantum of Solace), who is visibly tormented by the way the children are treated. However, before the audience can fully unravel the mystery of these kids and the military base they call home, chaos erupts when a group of Hungries take over, forcing Helen, Melanie, and a handful of other survivors to run for their lives.
First and foremost, this movie is completely brilliant. I was initially attracted by the seemingly silly description of zombies as Hungries, fully expecting a tired zombie movie with boring characters, a flat story, and the same old zombie action. Now, I love special effects and the work that goes into creating zombies in a horror film, but sometimes the most important part, the story, gets lost when we are focusing on the monsters.
However, The Girl With All The Gifts is not only wildly original, but it also has great characters, incredible locations, amazing set design, and a story that constantly surprised and thrilled me. I was taken completely off guard with this film truly cannot recommend this movie enough. The Hungries themselves are insanely creepy and weird, but still share familiar characteristics with their typical Last of Us and Zombieland counterparts.
From the first encounter to the last scene of the film, what impressed me the most about the Hungries was the amount of detail that was put into them. For example, when you first see them, they follow the fungal backstory to the point that the Hungries are covered in prosthetics and makeup that have earthy tones to match the backstory of their affliction.
Then, when they smell a living creature, instead of sprinting right into running or attack mode, Hungries crack their jaws and make unnerving movements that indicate that their hunger is waking up and they must feed. When I first saw a Hungrie doing this, I was simultaneously appalled and impressed–it is a detail that really stands out.
Besides the Hungries, the human characters in The Girl With All The Gifts are all hugely impressive and just as detailed as their zombie enemies. Melanie, the young protagonist of the piece, is one of the better child actors I have seen in a horror film. She is witty, intelligent, brave, and most of the time comes off smarter than the adults she is around.
Ms. Justineau is another heartfelt character who is the physical juxtaposition of the military and scientists that handle Melanie and the other children. Where the soldiers and scientists keep their distance, there are many unspoken moments where Helen shows her inner grief over the experimentation conducted on her students.
Although you do not get her backstory, Arterton’s well-acted scenes of emotion convey a person that is caught between morality and duty. There are also other soldiers and scientists in the main crew, but focusing on two of the more prominent ones, Sargent Eddie Parks (played by Paddy Considine, The Bourne Ultimatum, Child 44) is the opposite of Helen in that he is cold, calculating, and even refers to Melanie as it throughout their scenes together.
While he is generally unlikeable at first, he acts like a real military soldier in that he makes calloused, but calculating decisions about survival that follow the training he theoretically would receive if he was in the actual military. However, my favorite character was Dr. Caroline Caldwell, who is played by the legendary Glenn Close (Damages, Guardians of the Galaxy). Dr. Caldwell is the cold, logical bitch to Helen’s warm embrace, and is more concerned with harvesting Melanie than saving her.
What I enjoyed most about Dr. Caldwell is that she isn’t conventionally evil or wholly bad, she is just trying to do right by humanity, regardless of how this could be interpreted. The parallel of Dr. Caldwell and Helen was a brilliant pairing in that they complement each other and bring in two totally different kinds of women to the film without forcing all these characteristics in one person.
Overall, The Girl With All The Gifts is an excellent film that I strongly encourage you to seek out. It is not only fantastically well-made, but the attention to detail and the precision with which every decision has been made is admirable on so many levels. Also, while the film does not rely on jump scares or cheap thrills to get your blood pumping, it instead relies on well-crafted scenes to bring horror and thrills to the proceedings. Well worth a watch, particularly for those with zombie fatigue.
Catch The Girl with all the Gifts which arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital HD), DVD and Digital HD April 25 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film is currently available On Demand.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Colm McCarthy
Writer(s): Mike Carey
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close
Studio/ Production Co: Poison Chef, BFI Film Fund, Altitude Film Entertainment
Release date: January 26, 2017
Length: 111 min