“A creepily original zombie dystopia”, says ANDREW GARVEY, as he looks at 2016’s The Girl With All The Gifts.
TITLE: The Girl With All the Gifts
RELEASED: 23rd September 2016
STARRING: Sennia Nanua (Melanie), Gemma Arterton (Helen Justineau), Paddy Considine (Sgt Eddie Parks), Glenn Close (Dr Caroline Caldwell)
WRITER: Mike (MR) Carey (based on his own novel)
DIRECTOR: Colm McCarthy
Adapted from a James Herbert Award-nominated novel, The Girl With All the Gifts combines a strong story with some serious acting talent. The result? One of the more noteworthy British horror/thriller/action/sci-fi films of the last few years.
Opening with some chilling scenes of children, imprisoned in some kind of military facility where they are strapped into wheelchairs and taken, at gunpoint to their classroom, we are quickly introduced to Melanie (Sennia Nanua in her first full-length film), a bright, polite and strangely cheerful girl infatuated with her favourite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton).
When Miss Justineau, moved by a story Melanie has written, gently strokes her head, Sergeant Parks (a perpetually angry Paddy Considine) charges in and gives the teacher – and the audience – a demonstration of just why these intelligent, seemingly normal children are so dangerous.
Dangerous, but also crucial to the research of Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), a cold-eyed, driven scientist convinced these captive children hold the key to a vaccine for the fungal infection that’s turned the majority of the population into the film’s ‘hungries’ – hordes of flesh-crazed ‘zombies’ of the ferocious, fast-running 28 Days Later and World War Z variety.
Like the peckish savages massed at the army base’s fences, these children are flesh-eaters who, oddly, function normally until coming into close contact with uninfected human beings. Shortly, and inevitably, the ‘hungries’ overrun the base and Melanie, Justineau, Parks and Caldwell (and a couple of hangers-on who may as well be wearing red Star Trek uniforms) escape and go off in search of two things – safety, and answers.
Scottish director McCarthy, whose television credits include Ripper Street and Sherlock, handles suspense and action sequences well, although whoever was responsible for OK’ing the shoddy blood-spatter CGI effects every time a ‘hungry’ is shot should be dragged around the town square, put in the sticks and pelted with poorly CGI-rendered rotten tomatoes.
The script is largely true to the original novel – having the same man writing both probably helped – but the book is significantly better than the film. That’s less a criticism of the adaptation and more the reality of condensing a 400+ page book into a 100-minute film since the book can reveal it’s secrets slowly while the film needs to have characters awkwardly expositioning their heads off.
At times, characters’ transformations into ‘hungries’ looks a little too comical – all bug-eyed stares and teeth-gnashing that looks like they were instructed to chew their nearest victim as well as the scenery. But that’s a minor point. The Girl With All the Gifts is a well-plotted, well-acted, polished film.
Like the book, this is a more of an (uncommonly intelligent) action/thriller/sci-fi work than strictly a horror film and there are few individually scary moments but, in creating a ruined world where the characters make the choices they do, Carey, McCarthy and their talented cast and crew have come up with a creepily original zombie dystopia.