Director : Colm McCarthy
Year Of Release : 2016
Principal Cast : Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca, Dominique Tipper.
Approx Running Time : 115 Minutes
Synopsis: A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
Classy British zombie-thrillers don’t come much classier or thrilling than this. The Girl With All The Gifts is a crisp, superbly mounted sci-fi horror film that delivers equal parts brains and brutality – rare in modern horror, I know – and should be required viewing for all fans of the genre. Based on MR Carey’s 2014 novel of the same name, Colm McCarthy’s debut feature film project defines the term “visceral” while simultaneously refusing to kowtow to the many tropes, archetypes and simplistic motifs present in many of the zombie genre’s modern brethren. At times pulsating, at times moving, The Girl With All the Gifts is an altogether superior zombie flick in the vein of 28 Days Later and Dawn Of The Dead.
The near future: humanity is all but wiped out by a deadly fungal virus that transforms people into creatures (referred to as “the hungries”) who only lust after living human flesh. Somewhere in what remains of Britain, the military has set up a testing facility where a cure is sough, the subjects being children who can think and feel but who still crave the desire to eat flesh. Among them, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), responsible for teaching the children, and chief scientist Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), who believes the children hold the key to salvaging what’s left of the human race. One of the children, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) displays uncommon intelligence, and selflessly institutes herself as Caldwell’s next “test subject”. But when the facility is breached by hordes of zombiefied people, Melanie, Caldwell, Justineau and belligerent Sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) flee, trying to find safe haven in a country decimated by the fungus.
It’s a matter of personal opinion, I know, but the Fast-moving Zombie genre is by far the scariest of the canonical zombie films; a genre kick-started by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later and which has largely continued to gain prominence in pop-culture ever since. The days of moaning, sluggish, easy-to-escape zombies mumbling “braiiiiins” through rotting mandibles are almost over, you’d suspect, and given the sheer frugality of McCarthy’s film enjoying a largess of plaudits most assuredly warranted, the days of the fast-moving kind are far from over. The Girl With All The Gifts opens with a question, really; the age-old ethical quandary – if you could save a thousand by killing one, would you. Should you? It’s a fraction disappointing to find the film doesn’t really go much further to answering that question, as Dr Caldwell’s study of the hungries is cut short by an attack by a horde of them, but it’s a sturdy dilemma that does pose the question throughout the film’s quieter moments as to what the answer might be.
Of course, it helps a film’s quality to have a decent cast, and with Glenn Close and the dependable Paddy Considine leading the way, The Girl With All The Gifts has plenty of ammunition to fire off. Gemma Arterton, an actress slowly building a solid filmography and tackling interesting roles, gives the role of Helen Justineau a sense of maternal guilt, contrasted against Glenn Close’s ethically odious Caldwell. Close plays these kinds of hard-ass characters like most of us breathe oxygen, and her performance here is the most delicious, most devilish in the story. Considine is solid, if poorly serviced by a character as stock-generic as the genre might contain, but even an actor of his ability lifts the rest of the cast simply by being there. Then there’s newcomer Sennia Nanua, as the titular girl, Melanie. Nanua is equal parts creepy and innocent, the sorrow of her plight giving her an affecting mournfulness the young actress accomplishes with great skill. The use of her lilting accent, that “Red Queen from Resident Evil” type childlike creepiness, brings with it some specified audience foreknowledge, but Nanua is in a class of her own commanding the screen in an orange jumpsuit and a face-mask Hannibal Lecter would be proud of.
But you’re not here for the acting – although having good quality acting is cream on a very sweet cake – you’re here for the zombie stuff. And you get it. The film is briskly edited, trimmed of all ostentation and fluff, delivering high-octane zombie action, plentiful kill-shots and cool death sequences, and sizzling tension as our heroes (such as they are) try to avoid becoming zombies themselves. McCarthy, whose career includes plenty of British television including Doctor Who, Sherlock and Peaky Blinders, brings considerable style to the film, allowing the character work to marinate between bouts of frantic zombie chase-and-kill sequences. The action is filmed using that jittery high frame-rate style employed by directors looking to hide the seams of dodgy effects or acting, only here it accentuates the film’s foreboding anything-can-happen sense of purpose, rather than obfuscating it.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a surprise package from the UK that resolutely establishes them as the preeminent exponents of dystopian zombie films going around. A pulsating score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, dynamite editing from Matthew Cannings, and dusky-hued cinematography by Simon Dennis make for an exquisitely terrifying voyage into a world vaguely familiar, yet utterly new. It’s a film bringing something new to a genre I’d thought tapped out by over-saturation, and that’s refreshing. With the other major 2016 zombie film, Train To Busan, being an astonishingly awesome zombie adventure, The Girl With All The Gifts provides solid one-two punch that proves the fast-movers ain’t done with yet.