Calling the zombie movie genre oversaturated was right about five years ago. Today, it’s gone far past that. We’ve had classic zombie movies, we’ve had running zombies, we’ve had zomromcoms, and we’ve had Arnie looking sad zombie movies. You name it; they’ve done it. So unless you have something new to bring to the table, then you are better off staying at home.
All of which must be a genuine issue for The Girl With All The Gifts an adaptation of M.R. Carey’s novel of the same name. Director Colm McCarthy has to find something in this movie to sell it to a jaded public. Because that zombie movie that is a little bit different? This is it.
We begin in a world where the virus had already hit. The zombies, known as hungries, are widely spread and hidden away in a bunker a medical team led by Dr Caldwell (Glen Close) conducts experiments on a group of children infected by the disease. However, unlike their adult contemporaries, these kids appear to have retained a sense of intelligence. They attend school every day with Ms Justineau (Gemma Arterton), and it’s only when Paddy Considine’s Sgt. Parks wafts his arm invitingly in front of one of their noses that they lose control.
Central among these children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua) a young girl who appears to be the very essence of youthful innocence. She revels in stories and worships the ground her teacher walks on. It’s only when the hungries overrun the base, and they are forced to flee that she has to come to terms with the fungal disease that influences her brain.
It’s a truly stunning performance from Nanua. On an emotional level, she has us entirely on Melanie’s side. She is sweet, and her joy in simple things like receiving a new outfit are completely childlike in their devotion. It’s when the animal side of her personality is unveiled that you appreciate the performance, though. When presented with food her face stretches back, and her body begins to twitch with anticipation. It’s a performance very few young actors could give, and Nanua pulls it off with apparent ease.
It should be less of a surprise that the acting talent around her is equally as impressive. Each character has more than one layer and while not every detail is picked over in depth, you capture a whiff of it from each of them. Sgt. Parks’ troubled past that he has locked away under a veneer of efficiency. Justineau’s struggles with her feelings towards hungries that appear to her so very childlike and Caldwell’s attempts to shut off that emotional part of her brain as she fights to save humanity.
It’s those struggles that rise this above standard zombie fare, bringing it closer in line with the Romero classics of the genre. Zombies always mean more than just zombies and here they take on the power of nature. The idea that we are only a small part of it and if it ever decides that it’s had enough of us we are powerless to stop it.
All of which is backed up by a haunting score from Cristobal Tapia de Veer who seems to mix human voices in with the music. It’s a technique which adds a nails to chalkboard style effect (although not quite that unpleasant) and has you constantly on edge as they explore these overgrown cities avoiding their death.
It’s tough to get excited about another zombie movie. That fatigue makes it difficult to believe that you are getting something you haven’t seen before. And to be honest, you will have seen parts of The Girl With All The Gifts in your previous dabbles with the genre. It brings Romero’s intelligence together with 28 Days Later’s tension. The important thing is that it is taking the very best of both of those and presenting it in a package that won’t only have you on the edge of your seats as the latest band of hungries charges into view but will leave you with something to think about as well.