Even horror fans are sick of zombie movies. Yet they keep coming, much like, well… zombies. Clever filmmakers still manage to find ways of bringing something fresh to the subgenre, and when they do it reminds us of what we loved about zombie movies in the first place. The Girl With All The Gifts is a good example of how when zombie movies are done well, they can make us feel better about all the bad ones.
Originally conceived as a screenplay by writer Mike Carey, The Girl With All The Gifts was eventually published as a book, which became a best seller. Naturally, a movie adaptation wasn’t far behind. Colm McCarthy, who directed the folk horror film Outcast a few years back but is more well-known for directing several episodes of hit British TV series Peaky Blinders, helps bring Carey’s text to vivid life on the screen.
The Girl With All The Gifts looks gorgeous, alternating between claustrophobic scenes of the prison compound and the eerie sights of nature reclaiming the land. It also features some impressive special effects and a chilling score from Juan Cristobal Tapia de Veer. The main cast includes Paddy Considine, Gemma Arterton, and Glenn Close, all of whom are fantastic, even though the real star of the film is the enormously talented 14-year-old Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the titular girl.
Melanie, along with several other children, is being kept in a cell guarded by soldiers with large guns. Yet, Melanie seems to have adjusted to the situation, addressing the soldiers with a smile when they come to her cell, even though they talk about her with unbridled disgust.
As audience members, we don’t know the full extent of her situation and as we will soon learn, neither does Melanie. Cleverly, the film allows us to learn as we go, seeing things through her eyes, while still giving us access to the other adults at the prison compound. The desire to understand what is going on piques our interest especially when Melanie seems to be like any other normal kid. As we soon discover, she is not.
There is an early discussion of the Greek myth of Pandora in the film that provides a lot of insight into its narrative, but what will probably stick out more to viewers is how much The Girl With All The Gifts feels like the rightful successor to 28 Days Later. In 28 Weeks Later, we got a glimpse of what society would be like as it tried to adjust to a post-zombie world, but it destroyed the integrity of the world established the first film, replacing it with gratuitous gore. The Girl With All The Gifts revisits the ideas that 28 Weeks Later hinted at, but does something believable and compelling with them.
Granted, the origin story of the infected, or “the hungries” as they are referred to in The Girl With All The Gifts, is different, but the outcome is much the same. There are now two societies and one is comprised of mindless creatures. Or are they? One of the central questions that the film addresses is, “Are you still considered person if you’re infected?” The Schrodinger’s Cat equation is mentioned early on and it’s a puzzle that remains important throughout the course of the film.
There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the plot of The Girl With All The Gifts and the impact of colonialism but it also could be seen as a metaphor for the concept of animal rights. These allusions won’t become more obvious until the end of the film but they’re ideas definitely worth considering. Horror purists can rest assured, however, that The Girl With All The Gifts provides genuine suspense along with scares and more than a little carnage for the gorehounds. It is also a film that is, at times, incredibly moving and blackly comedic.
Zombie cynics, you are on notice; The Girl With All The Gifts might be the movie that brings the Zombie genre back to life.
The Girl With All The Gifts received its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday, September 14.