The Girl With All The Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy
Screenwriter: Mike Carey
Based on the book by Mike (M.R.) Carey
Cast: Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Paddy Considine, Anamaria Marinca, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh, Sennia Nanua
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R | 111 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 25th, 2017
Zombies are one of the defining characters in horror, alongside vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein monsters. In the post-The Walking Dead world, writers and filmmakers have tried with various levels of success to create something new and original from a sub genre that can often produce B-level dreck. My favorite film of 2016 was South Korean zombie flick Train to Busan. Just when I thought I had seen it all from zombies, I watched The Girl With All the Gifts, just released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The film is written by Mike (M.R.) Carey who also penned the novel in 2014.
In The Girl With All the Gifts, mankind is on the verge of extinction after the spread of a fungal infection. The disease eradicates free will, and the victims become “hungries.” However, we don’t find out those details until a bit later. Rather than drop you knees deep in a bloody post apocalyptic zombie movie, director Colm McCarthy uses the first 20-plus minutes to develop the characters and build empathy for those involved. We meet Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), who is the sweetest and most polite little girl ever, held at gunpoint by soldiers with machine guns. She’s strapped to a chair and brought to “class.” The shots of a classroom filled with children strapped and bound to wheelchairs in orange jumpsuits, contrasting the military fatigues around them is quite the visual. Add in the hauntingly slow and melodic score, and it had me hooked right away.
The children are quizzed on the periodic table before Miss Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) comes in. You can tell immediately how the soldiers and others in this facility view the children as dangerous monsters (or “abortions”, as one calls them). Justineau loves them, especially Melanie, with whom she shares a bond. She reads the kids Greek myths; the film borrows its title from the story of Pandora. Breaking the kind exchange is Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine), who is there to remind Justineau of what they are. He waves his arm in front of the kids and they snap into zombie mode, chomping their teeth in violent fashion.
I need to stop and disuss Sennia Nanua for one second. This girl is making her feature film debut and is A STAR! She delivers such a nuanced performance, a 12-year girl who knows nothing of the outside world, what she is, or what is happening, but at the same time possessing the spark of childhood imagination. There are scenes later in the film where she holds conversations with Chief Surgeon Dr. Caldwell (Oscar nominee Glenn Close) as well as Parks. He is afraid of her, but soon becomes an unlikely father figure, and watching their relationship develop was actually my favorite part in the film. Nanua holds her own with these top level actors, and I cannot wait to watch her grow up onscreen.
Plotwise, the “hungries” envelop the facility forcing a small group to head off in an armored vehicle into the abyss of post-apocalyptic England. The filmmakers went to great lengths to make the world appear worn and deserted by humanity. In the documentary feature on the Blu-ray they discuss finding an actual abandoned hospital to shoot in, and actually flew drones over a small ghost town in Chernobyl for some of the overhead shots. When they encounter “hungries,” genre fans get doses of traditional zombie violence, but that is far from the main plot point here. We also find out more about the fungal disease, and the frightening ramifications it still has for humanity’s potential resurgence.
If you’re looking for a gory munch-fest of a zombie film, The Girl With All the Gifts is probably not what you’re looking for. This film is an intelligent and emotional film that happens to be in the zombie sub-genre, and contains a truly thought provoking and often funny script. The interactions between Melanie and Sgt. Parks become more and more delightful as the film goes on. There’s a hilarious moment where Melanie starts throwing the word “abortion” around, she overheard Parks say it, and has NO context to its definition.
The Girl With All The Gifts is moving, scary, and full of well written characters who all have realistic motivations. The acting is top notch, and I cannot say enough about Sennia Nanua, who just dominates this film with her undeniable charm and enthusiasm. The Blu-ray features an excellent 15+ minute documentary covering the production, featuring interviews from all of the filmmakers and actors. Some of the highlights were Glenn Close getting her zombie movie loving sister-in-law a cameo as a “hungry,” and Colm McCarthy’s assertion that Nanua was the last of 500 girls to audition, and he knew that he waited that long for the right reasons. Perhaps the most terrifying fact is that the fungal infection in Carey’s story is actually based on a real things discovered by him in David Attenborough’s Secret of Life of Plants, a disease that affects ants and is truly horrific.
Overall, The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the better “zombie” movies to come out in recent years, thanks to a truly original idea and a terrific cast and crew. Sennia Nanua is something special. The Girl With All the Gifts Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack comes with a free digital copy, and is available now on Amazon for $16.96 and also streaming on Amazon video.
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