Film Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

screenshot-2016-09-23-20-42-22Frances Winston says that this zombie movie will appeal to a wider audience than just fans of the genre

Directed by: Colm McCarthy – Starring: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua

If the words ‘post-apocalyptic zombie drama’ make you groan, you’ve probably already made up your mind to hate this movie, but before you write it off, I would say give it a chance, as this has something most others don’t – a child protagonist.

There’s always something disturbing about seeing someone who looks so innocent having the potential to commit heinous acts – that’s why the character of Claudia, in Interview With The Vampire, played memorably by Kirsten Dunst, makes people so uncomfortable.

When we first meet Melanie (Nanua in her debut performance) she is incarcerated in a bunker-like building in an army base. She and all the other children in the base attend classes, strapped into wheelchairs with restraints, and, other than the extremely bright Melanie, they barely communicate with their teacher, Miss Justineau (Arterton).

The base sergeant, Parks (Considine) is aggressive towards the kids and wary of them, as although they all look innocent, it seems that the children are all functioning ‘hungries’ – the name given to people afflicted by a fungal disease that has turned them into flesh-eaters.

The disease has ravaged humanity, and while most ‘hungries’ are catatonic and rotting, these children, to all intents and purposes, look normal. Dr Caldwell (Close) believes that they are the secret to finding a cure for the affliction, and systematically experiments on them. However, when the base is invaded, all plans go out the window, as Justineau, Caldwell, Parks, and Melanie find themselves on the run, trying to get to safety, and it is on this journey that Melanie learns her true origins, and comes to terms with who she is.

As I said, there is something very disturbing about seeing a child look so innocent that is capable of huge atrocities. Melanie is no exception, and the first time you see her give in to her craving is truly shocking, as prior to this she has been a model of sweetness and light.

Nanua does a fantastic job of conveying her turmoil, between wanting to be ‘normal’ and accepting who she is. She has some very intense scenes with acting powerhouse Close, and more than holds her own. In fact, you ignore the numerous plot-holes, because all the performers are so engaging.

McCarthy has done a great job of creating the dystopian world that the characters live in. You can see the influence of classic zombie films, such as Dawn of the Dead, in the look of some of the scenes, and fans of the genre will notice many subtle homages throughout, which may or may not be intentional. This isn’t at the expense of the story though, and what sets this apart is that it’s not just a survival story with the ‘normal’ people fighting the zombies. There’s a whole underlying message about accepting people’s differences, and accepting ourselves for who we are. Yet it manages to avoid preaching to the audience, and rather you find yourself processing this subconsciously.

The ending will leave you questioning everything you’ve seen, and isn’t the way you would expect this to wind up.

Based on the tween novel of the same name, that doesn’t mean that this can’t be enjoyed by adults. It’s well-paced, and doesn’t try to insult the audience’s intelligence.

Zombies aside, this is an engaging and thought-provoking story. Extremely enjoyable, this is far from standard schlock-horror fare, and should appeal to far more than fans of the genre.

If you like your monster movies to have heart and smarts, then you’ll enjoy this.

In Cinemas Now!

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