THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
Pray she doesn’t give you any
Mike Carey’s unusual modern zombie novel hits the big screen.
RELEASED 23 SEPTEMBER 15 | 111 MINUTES DIRECTOR COLM MCCARTHY CAST SENNIA NANUA, GEMMA ARTERTON, PADDY CONSIDINE, GLENN CLOSE
Just when you thought you’d seen every possible spin on the zombie movie, along comes someone with a startling new idea. The Girl With All The Gifts might be a zombie movie, but it’s also a road movie, an eco-horror, and a bold political statement. And it’s great at being all of those things.
Roughly a decade after the outbreak of a mysterious virus that turns people into mindless slavering cannibals, the UK’s few survivors are holed up in heavily guarded military camps. In one of them, Base Hotel Echo, teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) has formed an unusual bond with one of her most gifted students, Melanie (Sennia Nanua). Unfortunately, their relationship is likely to be short-lived, because Melanie’s got an appointment with the operating table of the camp’s scariest scientist, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close).
Luckily (or not), before the scalpels come out, the base is overrun by “Hungries”, forcing Justineau, Caldwell and Melanie to flee in the back of a truck. Thus begins a journey not just across London but also across prejudices, as Justineau and co struggle to make sense of what’s left of the world, and start to question what “surviving” even means.
Sounds a bit thinky? It’s okay. Every time the ontological arguments threaten to get too intense, director Colm McCarthy chucks in a chase scene – and there’s more than one moment where you’ll find yourself holding your breath as characters attempt to make their way through Hungry-infested hellholes. While it’s no surprise that the likes of Paddy Considine and Glenn Close turn in nuanced performances, the film’s real star is 12-year-old Sennia Nanua; she’s equal parts bright, endearing, and terrifying.
There are a few minor flaws to pick at. Some of the plot contrivances strain credulity, while fans of screenwriter Mike Carey’s original novel will notice a
Moments where you’ll be holding your breath
couple of beats are missing. It’s also tough to believe anyone could call the infected “Hungries” with a straight face when the term “Zombies” is available (and universally understood!). But this is all pretty easy to forgive, especially because the list of the things the film gets right – its intelligent world-building, its wonderfully eerie soundtrack, its subtly horrifying creature effects, and its brilliantly realised characters – is so much longer than the list of things it fumbles.
The evocative title is a riff on Greek mythology, specifically the story of Pandora’s box. Exactly how that applies to Melanie doesn’t become clear until the very end, but when it does, it’ll give you goosebumps. You may never look at a zombie in the same way again... Sarah Dobbs
Most of the scenes set in post-apocalyptic London were actually shot in Shirley, in the West Midlands.
The striking tube workers’ picket line was a bit rubbish.