Directed by Colm McCarthy
Starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua
Released on 23rd September 2016
The Hunger Games are over, Divergent will probably move to TV and The Maze Runner series is on hold. The end of the recent glut of YA movies is nigh. Where does that leave their many fans? Especially the ones who are now a few years older. Step forward The Girl With All The Gifts.
It’s in that all-too-familiar post dystopian setting, this time the remains of London after a virus has turned just about everybody into zombies. In a military facility, a group of children are held under strict supervision, strapped into wheelchairs for their lessons and confined to cells at all other times. They have the virus as well, but don’t display all the outward symptoms. So scientist Caldwell (Glenn Close) is using them to develop a vaccine. When hoards of zombies attack the unit, she manages to escape along with the children’s teacher, a couple of soldiers and one of the children. They all set off to find safety, but the zombies are in pursuit and start picking them off, one by one.
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to zombie movies – but then I’m not into horror either and the two go hand in hand. So here I am, broadening my knowledge again. And the opening sequences of the film really grab your attention, with the regimented lines of children in their wheelchairs and terracotta suits: not quite orange, but you get the analogy. You, on the other hand, are trying to figure out what’s going on because the youngsters appear completely normal: Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is especially likeable and clearly very intelligent. So why the cells, the armed guards and the confinement?
Once that mystery is solved and the endless swarms of zombies have made their first appearance, it loses that intrigue and turns into more of a chase movie. And not an especially scary one. There’s plenty of blood and gore, either when the zombies – or hungries, as they’re called – satisfy their appetites or when they’re shot through the head. But there are times when it’s hard to stifle a giggle at their guttural noises. Zombies aren’t really meant to be taken seriously, are they? While there’s not much in the way of sustained suspense, there are some jump-out-of-your-seat moments, as well moments of tension, especially when Melanie leads her humans through crowds of sleeping hungries. The slightest sound or sniff of living flesh could wake them up … It really is like watching Divergent with zombies.
The abandoned London setting will jangle a loud bell. It’s done convincingly, with the city taken over by nature, full of empty buildings and ransacked branches of Next, Waterstones and Lidl, as well an overgrown BT Tower. And the catastrophe must have happened a few years ago, as there’s no sign of The Cheese Grater obscuring The Gherkin. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, made 14 years ago, explored a similar landscape and now it’s the turn of Peaky Blinders director, Colm McCarthy, to bring the idea back to the big screen.
What makes The Girl With All The Gifts stand apart from all the other post-dystopian movies is that it has some intelligence behind it, as well as a strong emotional core in Melanie. You engage with her from the outset, and she sustains your sympathy throughout her journey and her fight for survival – and, yes, even when she gets hungry. She also has a fascination for Greek myths and legends, hence the title which refers to Pandora and her famous box. And Melanie is a proper Pandora, with her intelligence and resourcefulness, as well as her condition. It’s an impressive debut from Sennia Nanua and she more than holds her own against the more famliar names of Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine.
If there can be such a thing, this is more of a thinking person’s zombie movie. Although you probably don’t have to think as hard as the film clearly believes.
The Girl With All The Gifts is released today and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 22 September.