We all know at least one person who is prepared for the zombie apocalypse! With shows such as The Walking Dead, and ground breaking films such as 28 Days Later, it is safe to say that zombie fever hit big time. From its original slow walking reanimated corpses, right up to the infected rage filled super humans of today, the genre has seen its highs and lows since Danny Boyle and Alex Garland re-wrote the rules.
In The Girl with all the Gifts, once again we visit zombie inhabited London after a virus has wiped out much of the population. Yet this time the story is told through the eyes of a remarkable young girl who walks the line between human and predator. With a brilliant cast, led by newcomer Sennia Nanua, and moral complications, the film is way above the average zombie fest: A new and intelligent approach to a popular genre.
In an army bunker, young Melanie (Nanua) awakens every day to brutal soldiers, restraints, and pointed guns. Despite Melanie’s innocence, manners, and indifference, her and other children are treated with fear and a lack of compassion by all around them, except their teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who regards the children as simply that and resents the treatment they face. When Melanie is taken outside the base for the first time she emerges in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by hordes of infected ‘Hungries’. Once the base has fallen, her and a small group including her teacher, soldiers Parks and Gallagher (Paddy Considine and Fisayo Akinade) and scientist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), must survive in the outside world. Yet the doctor’s missions to find a vaccine to the epidemic is not yet complete and young Melanie may in fact hold the answers to human survival.
The film is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by M.R. Carey who also adapted the screenplay. Directing duties here have been given to Colm McCarthy in only his second feature film after 2010’s Outcast. The director is better known for his impressive TV credits which include Peaky Blinders, Sherlock and Ripper Street.
The story throws us straight into the world already dealing with a vicious virus. What exactly Melanie and the other children are is not initially explained yet from others reaction it is clear they are something to be feared. From the brutal safety of the base into the outside world and then into a terror filled London, the escalation of the film is brilliant. The journey is one filled with terror and dread and not just from what is around the next corner but what is within the group of survivors themselves.
In a change from the source material the entire film is shown from Melanie’s point of view. This is her story and the audience follow her instead of dipping in and out of multiple characters perspectives. Each of her fellow survivors represents an approach to the hungries as a dilemma. Dr, Caldwell is the methodical, scientific approach, sometimes brutal but always with the greater good in mind. Soldiers Parks and Gallagher represent the militant approach, restraints and force despite how their feelings towards Melanie change. Finally Miss Justineau represents compassion, yet still she fears what Melanie is and her compassion can at any moment come at a cost.
The moral dilemmas the film raisers are by far its most interesting traits. The fact that the Hungries are in essence humanised by Melanie makes their (more particularly the hybrid children’s) fight for survival no different from ours. This desire to live makes the film similar, in essence, to Ex Machina in its moral questioning.
The great narrative and pace are propelled even further by the performances of its on form cast. Arterton plays the loving and compassionate mother figure and her warmth towards Melanie is the heart of the film. Considine and Akinade may not initially be the most sympathetic of characters. Yet their changing feelings towards Melanie are brilliant personal arcs and soon they become protectors rather than enforcers. Glenn Close plays the shrill and often cold Dr, Caldwell. Her conversations with Melanie are the moral fibre of the film and her larger than life presence is always felt even when not on screen.
Despite this impressive cast it is young lead and newcomer Nanua that really steals the show. Here she is able to portray intelligent innocence alongside vicious hunger. The moral dilemmas of the film are displayed perfectly within her performance. A beautiful child who can and must eat living flesh to survive. Her fight for survival rivals our own and can we really argue we deserve to live and thrive more?
The comparison to other zombie films is inevitable and their influences can be seen throughout. With the small group of survivors stranded in derelict London and hungries around every corner 28 Days Later is the most obvious one. Yet one thing this film is not able to do is create a realistic apocalyptic London. The scenes feel like an abandoned city but not London and in no way is this visually comparable to what Boyle did with his infected masterpiece.
Not your run of the mill zombie apocalypse film. The Girl with all the Gifts is a damming vision of post-apocalyptic England. Looking at the genre from a new angle and finding a breakout star with its fantastic young lead.
The Girl with all the Gifts is out 23rd September