Despite favourable reviews, Colm McCarthy’s science-fiction horror, part 28 Days Later, part The Last of Us, has been undeservedly swept under the bloodied rug. Interestingly, the novel and the screenplay were written simultaneously by McCarthy, quite a peculiar circumstance.
In dystopian Britain (is there any other kind of Britain?), children are studied and tested upon in a military facility long after the outbreak of a fungal infectious diseases, turning Poundland and Marks and Spencers shoppers alike into ‘Hungries’, flesh-eating plant people. Society has of course broken down and, once the facility is overrun by the Trffid folk, a handful of soldiers, scientists and the special child Melanie make a break for survival across a slightly more dead England than usual. The film then follows the group as they search for a large military base to use Melanie and synthesise an antidot, and cue the right amount of scares mingled in with pertinent questions.
The zombie genre in popular culture is often about as fresh as the walking dead themselves, so it’s nice when some life is injected, reinvigorating the stagnant, decaying corpse of a genre. The Girl With All The Gifts thus deals with certain ethics and morals, with scientists keeping second-generation infected yet aware children in imprisonment to be tested on for a cure. Moral lines are crossed with the containment and testing of these children, with the greater good of saving the remains of humanity at stake.
The plot, simple and effective, is bolstered by performances from some of the best Britain has to offer. Versatile Paddy Considine (a favourite of mine based almost solely in Dead Man’s Shoes) plays a conflicted soldier, bitter over personal loss during the outbreak. Gemma Arterton stars as Helen Justineau, a sympathetic doctor assigned to teach the ‘hungry’ children as they are bound to wheelchairs, troubled by the means in which the world is being saved. Also performing is none other than Glenn Close, appearing as driven Dr Caroline Caldwell, stopping at nothing in the name of science and in the pursuit of a cure, with only a smidge of remorse for cutting into the kiddies. The range of characters with different perspectives and ways of dealing with grief and morality is quite refreshing, feeling less like the clichéd characters that they easily could be and more like believable human beings. They are of course tied together by Melanie, played by young actress Sennia Nanua, often a scene stealer and more a mature onscreen presence than many child actors.
A tense and intriguing little British independent science-fiction horror, The Girl With All The Gifts is perhaps the best of its kind since Danny Boyles’ gritty, horrific and grounded 28 Days Later, with some interesting plot development that keep it refreshing. Hungries slowly turning into spore-like plants, though reminiscent of video game The Last Of Us, is something fairly new in terms of zombie movie lore, for instance. Like Snowpiercer before it (which I refuse to shut up about, go watch it), as a sci-fi thriller combo, TGWATG is genuinely great gem of a movie that has not been credited quite enough, in my opinion. With a thrilling final act and gut-wrenching final sequence, this is a film that has been missed when it should not have been.
The Film Fanatic