It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.
A fungal infection has turned most of the world into “Hungries” – not necessarily zombies, but not necessarily just infected (it still takes a head shot to drop them, though). On a military base in a county outside of London, experiments are being done on children, born infected, who have a semblance of humanity about them. One girl, Melanie, is special and when the gates go down, she and a few survivors go on the run.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a 2016 British zombie film written by Mike R. Carey (who also wrote the novel upon which the film is based) and directed by Colm McCarthy and goddamn if it isn’t amazing. McCarthy is Scottish and cut his teeth working in television, most famously on Peaky Binders, Sherlock, and Doctor Who. He’s a self-taught filmmaker and while The Girl with All the Gifts isn’t actually his first feature film (he wrote and directed the 2010 horror film Outcast), it’s a bombshell of a second debut.
You might recognize Mike Carey’s name from his stints writing comics at 2000 AD, the entire run of Lucifer, the third longest run on Constantine, as well as many other minis for both DC and Marvel. His novel, The Girl with All the Gifts was released in 2014 (with a sequel, The Boy on the Bridge set for release in May) and while the screenplay for the film veers away from the events of the book, streamlining the story, the ending remains true to the original vision.
The film’s cast is just as impressive as its ambition, with Glenn Close playing Dr. Caroline Caldwell, a scientist on the verge of a breakthrough in the development of an antidote for the plague, Paddy Considine as Sgt. Eddie Parks, a no-nonsense soldier tasked with helping to save the species, and Gemma Arterton as teacher Helen Justineau, who forms a special bond with our main character. The most important bit of casting, however, was Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the titular girl with the gifts. In her feature film debut, Nanua is spellbinding as the precocious and charming threat to all humanity.
Her approach to the role is so open and believable that it’s easy to forget that she’s not playing a human girl. The moments when her feral nature begins clawing its way to the surface are horrifying. On the flipside, her sense of awe at being introduced to the wide world outside of her cell is both heartbreaking and wondrous. The weight of the film rests on her shoulders and she is more than capable of bearing the burden.
I have to say, though, that from the opening moments of the film, the most impressive performance on display is that of composer Cristobel Tapia de Veer. If you read any of our reviews of the criminally underrated (and canceled too soon) UK TV series Utopia, then you know who he is. If not, suffice to say, he’s a genius at composing soundscapes that envelop you, pulling you into a work, getting under your skin and into your head, and creating as much tension and drama as the equally impressive cinematographer Simon Dennis (who also worked with McCarthy on Peaky Binders).
I know that it was just yesterday that I said Train to Busan was the best film of this year’s marathon so far. I didn’t really expect that title to be taken away so quickly. The Girl with All the Gifts is without a doubt the most impressive film of this year’s Easter Zombie Movie Marathon, with the most impressive cast, and most impressive breakout performance. Carey’s story brings a refreshing new take to the zombie genre while McCarthy’s direction is suitably tense and beautiful. Whether or not this is due to the fact that the film is based on a novel and the author did the adaptation, I don’t know. But this is a fully-realized world and the characters have depths that many original films in the genre are lacking.
The filmmakers were also able to stretch a relatively low budget (around 4 million pounds), to create an abandoned London overrun with vegetation, particularly through the use of drone footage of the Russian ghost town of Prypjat, near Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. And having a cast this talented means that the genre of the film didn’t limit the creative possibilities of the performances. I can only assume that it was the strength of the script that brought this cast together.
You may read comparisons to films like 28 Days Later, or even Logan’s Run, but The Girl with All the Gifts is one of the most original takes on the zombie apocalypse genre I’ve seen in years and a joy from start to finish.