Starring Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Here’s another movie where all of humanity has never heard the word “zombie.” In The Girl With all the Gifts, the flesh-eating undead are called “hungries.” Only a small group of children seem immune to the virus’s effects. At an army base in rural England, these unique tots are being studied, and subjected to medical experiments by no-nonsense biologist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close, “Damages”). Despite having been infected with the pathogen that has decimated most of the world, these kiddoes retain normal thoughts and emotions. Although they do crave human flesh, these second-generation hungries are able to think and feel, making them a vital resource in the search for a cure.
One child, 10-year-old Melanie (Sennia Nanua, Beverley), stands out from the rest. She excels in the military-run classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative, and loves her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Aterton, Quantum of Solace). When the base falls to a zombie, er, hungries, horde, Melanie escapes along with her teacher, the biologist, a surly sergeant, and a couple of soldiers. Melanie is a special girl, but she’s not a human girl… and as the band of survivors encounter the evils of blighted Britain, her trustworthiness comes into question.
The first thing I thought, after the end credits rolled on The Girl With all the Gifts, was, “This would have been much better as short film.” After that, I learned that the source material is a short story. It’s an award-winner called “Iphigenia In Aulis.” The author, Mike Carey, then fleshed it out into a novel and screenplay at the same time. (Talk about milking it!) Director Colm McCarthy is best-known for working in TV and has helmed several BBC drama productions. That’s probably why The Girl With all the Gifts just doesn’t feel (or look) like a full-fledged feature. As the meager story dragged on, I persevered to the end only to discover it was just as I’d predicted.
While lapses in logic can be forgiven in a gothic or heightened artistic cinematic universe, the filmmakers here present a world of gritty realism. Yet they have the characters doing some really unrealistic things. Here’s just one of many: Why, when the soldiers know the hungries go right for the jugular, do they purposely penetrate throngs of the undead and not wear armor or neck protection of any kind?
Horror fans who want blood and guts, you got it. But will you care? I didn’t.
The movie is dreary and dull overall, but thankfully there’s just enough punch to the pacing to keep you going just when you’re ready to sign off. The cinematography is so-so, and the screechy score is akin to fingernails-on-blackboard. The cast is fine, but the only really redeeming reason to watch The Girl With all the Gifts all the way through is the girl herself. Nanua is a terrific actor, who emotes beautifully even without words.