The Girl with all the Gifts

Considering just how many zombie stories have been told and the limitations of the subject you wouldn’t think there was anything new that could be done. Though not strictly speaking a zombie film, The Girl with all the Gifts uses the choreography of the genre but in an intelligent new way. In fact the z-word is not even mentioned. The result is a frequently thrilling yet thought provoking British film that is well worth seeing provided you don’t mind some gore and blood of course!

The opening scenes set the tone for what is to come as we find ourselves in an unspecified dystopian future inside what appears to be a prison housing dangerous children who are locked in cells nightly and taken strapped up to classes. All this takes place in an austere concrete bunker for which no initial explanations are provided. The main character is Melanie a young girl whose intellect seems to outpace the other kids and who seems to have something of a bond with the English teacher Miss Justineau. The film is superbly paced to unveil new revelations at just the right juncture and after an incident in class has revealed the true status of these kids, so the narrative turns – as it will on several occasions- in a different direction. Once the wider picture becomes clear- in a startlingly brutal reveal- we venture beyond the base and the path of a survival movie albeit an unusually literate one.
Melanie herself is intuitive and pleasant enough so that scenes when she turns into what are termed here as “hungries” become even more alarming. This is a remarkable performance from Sennia Nanua a young actor whom you would not expect to be able to deliver such swings from playful to intelligent to brave to savage. She’s able to hold her own too against such strong actors as Paddy Considine who convinces as Eddie Parks, a man who’s had to become a hard bitten soldier in a short time. Glenn Close impresses too as scientist Caroline Caldwell whose work into a cure for the smitten population involves some horrendous decisions. Gemma Arteton make Helen Justineau a teacher who can survive what happens and still maintain her kindness.
While there are moments where the action takes you to familiar scenarios the denouement is almost always unexpected, director Colm McCarthy and editor Matthew Cannings keeping us on our toes with frantic explosions of bestial behaviour contrasting with involving conversations and some hand wringingly tense parts. Mike Carey’s script plays heavily on the moral dimensions of the situation. Is Caldwell’s work justified? Is Melanie a person or a monster? What extremes do you go to in the event of some catastrophe? There’s also a strand that plays youth against experience in what really does expand the whole zombie idea.
Of course for those fans of spilling guts and extremely tense pursuits there are plenty to be savoured in scenes heightened by Cristobel Tapia de Veer’s disturbing incidental score. Yet however brutal we get, the film – via Melanie - takes us back to the human side, the nature of things and of evolution. The ending is none of the things you start to think it will be, neither happy nor sad but natural. It would be a shame to say more because this is one of those films whose developments intrigue, thrill and satisfy the viewer as they emerge. Truly, this is the film with all the gifts.

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