Monday, February 27, 2017


(UK - 2016; US release 2017)

Directed by Colm McCarthy. Written by Mike Carey. Cast: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh, Dominique Tipper. (R, 111 mins)

Based on the 2014 novel and scripted by its author M.R. Carey, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is one of the more thoughtful and intelligent offerings in the overcrowded zombie genre, approaching its subject from a unique perspective and benefiting from refreshingly unpredictable and very human character arcs. Set in an apocalyptic, near-future England, the film opens in a bunker at a military installation where restrained children are kept in maximum security cells before being taken to their lessons restrained in wheelchairs. The soldiers point guns at them at all times and don't engage in conversation, even though young Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is polite, articulate, and eager to please. Outside the gates of the base, hordes of zombies, or "hungries," linger about, ferociously seeking any kind of food and turned into mindless flesh-eaters by a deadly fungal virus that spread across the globe. The children being kept at the base are second generation "hungries" who transformed in utero and burrowed out of their mothers' wombs after devouring their insides. The virus is transmitted through bites and body fluids, but the second generation hungries--the children--still display the capacity for humanity. They're able to talk and learn and their feral side only comes out when they're hungry (they're fed live worms) and catch the scent of a human. The soldiers and the others running the base cover themselves in a blocker gel that stifles their scent, but that still doesn't provide enough security for Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine) who simply regards them as inhuman hungries and doesn't care about their more human side seen by their teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). Helen is in the minority with her views on attempting to treat the second generation hungries like children, especially when it comes to Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), the research scientist working on a vaccine for the virus, which often involves killing and dissecting the young hungries. "They're children!" Helen argues, with Caldwell countering "They present as children!"

Caldwell is about to vivisect Melanie when Helen intervenes and the marauding hungries outside tear down the barrier and overtake the base. Almost everyone is slaughtered, with Caldwell, Parks, Helen, Private Kieran (Fisayo Akinade), and Melanie getting away, Melanie kept on top of the transport vehicle, restrained and wearing a clear Hannibal Lecter-type muzzle shield. It's here that THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS settles into a more comparatively routine, sprinting undead 28 DAYS/WEEKS LATER situation, with the small band of survivors making their way across the apocalyptic landscape that was once England (aerial views were shot by drones flown over the abandoned Chernobyl town of Pripyat), though Carey and veteran British TV director Colm McCarthy (RIPPER STREET, PEAKY BLINDERS) offer enough unique elements to keep things from feeling too rote and stale. The relationship that develops between Melanie and the others is unexpected, with even the hard-bitten Parks begrudgingly seeing the girl's human side after she does numerous things to help them, such as scouting paths to safe places since the hungries will leave her alone. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS gets a lot from an often-remarkable debut performance from young Nanua. She's terrifying when her feral instincts take over and quite touching in fleeting instances where she's allowed to be a kid (Melanie's utter joy in putting on a pair of sneakers and communicating with Parks over a walkie-talkie is very nicely played by Nanua). Even Close's ostensible antagonist displays signs of empathy as their journey goes on, no matter how heartlessly matter-of-fact she is at times (Close spitting out "Was that cathartic?" when Caldwell is cracked across the face by Helen is a highlight). It's hard to do anything original with the zombie genre at this point, and indeed, a lot of the scenes play like any random episode of THE WALKING DEAD. But with a quartet of strong performances at its core (not to mention the sight of Glenn Close killing zombies) and some original ideas in its foundation as well its ultimate revelation, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS manages to separate itself from the rest of the horde.

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