Scottish director Colm McCarthy (perhaps best known for his work on Sherlock and Peaky Blinders) offers up a tense, intelligent, and chillingly provocative British horror film in The Girl With All The Gifts.
Ably assisted by screenwriter Mike Carey, adapting his own bestseller from 2014, their film takes the elaborately overdone zombie genre and resuscitates it, while also taking and revamping a handful of well-established genre tropes––apocalypse premise, creepy kids, mad scientists––and tweaks them in eccentric and imaginative new ways.
Set in the near future, humanity has been brought close to extinction by a mutated fungal epidemic that turns those afflicted into flesh-starved zombies or “hungries”. A tiny group of children seem to show signs of immunity and are kept at an army base in rural England.
Amongst these children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua, wonderful) and when we first see her we’re pretty in the dark as to why she’s in a prison cell with armed guards pointing weapons at her as she settles into a wheelchair and is restrained, even though she acts and sounds like a most pleasant little girl.
We soon see from another manacled child that, while cute one minute, these children can, when aroused by the scent of human flesh, be worked into a teeth-gnashing tizzy as they lose themselves to the mephitic nature of their affliction. The children are being studied by Dr. Caroline Caldwell, played by a never nastier Glenn Close, who has no problems running cruel experiments on them and dissecting them in search for a vaccine.
The children also retain much intelligence and are taught a variety of classes from teachers on the base, including Melanie’s favorite, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). And Melanie stands out to Justineau, too, not only does she excel in all her classes, but her frequent displays of kindness, imagination, perception, and big-eyed curiosity has endeared her immensely.
As the children attend their lessons––and there’s a hint of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos here––with Miss Justineau recounting stories from Greek mythology being popular amongst her students, they’re kept safe, as it were, by Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine). Until of course when the base falls and shit and the fan are fatefully assigned. From there the film goes full throttle into genre territory and things get harsh and hectic.
Of course there’s a fair bit of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead on offer here, but there’s also some Cronenbergian uncertainty with the nature of infection that are devilishly delightful to entertain. And to see Melanie in a mask that looks to be on loan from Hannibal Lecter makes for a strange mixture of dismay, desolation, and dark humor, too.
The Girl With All The Gifts is an effective horror film, it contains a weird, almost fairytale beauty about it, has plenty of unpredictable twists and ultimately ends up something of a murderous platonic love story. Recommended.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.