Release date: 23rd September 2016/Watch the trailer here
The Girl With All The Gifts is based on the novel of the same name by M. R. Carey. The film begins with a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), counting down the seconds in a bare, concrete cell of a room. The metal door opens, Melanie is restrained at gunpoint, and then she is wheeled to a classroom, filled with similarly restrained children, all wearing matching tracksuits in the shade of orange that we’ve come to associate with prisoners. It is a startling opening to a film that becomes no less shocking as the runtime ticks by; set to the sort of haunting soundtrack that would have you constantly looking over your shoulder if you were to listen to it alone at night.
Why are these children – seemingly so polite and keen to learn – being kept in solitary confinement, restrained like monsters? The answer is revealed gradually (no expositional narration here) as we are introduced to the adults: the kind teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who is sympathetic towards the children and treats them to stories of Greek mythology; the researcher, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), who stops by Melanie’s cell each day with logic puzzles; and the guard, Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine), who spits on his arm and brandishes it in front of one of the children to teach Miss Justineau a lesson for her gentle touch to Melanie’s head. The child responds by thrashing furiously in his restraints, eyes wild and teeth frenziedly clacking in his jaws.
The Girl With All The Gifts is set in a world where most of humanity has been hit by a fungal infection that has reduced them to mindless ‘hungries’, ravenous for uninfected blood. Dr Caldwell believes that a vaccine lies within Melanie and the other children: a second generation who are infected, but still conscious, sentient beings. Melanie, who has formed a special bond with Miss Justineau, must go on the run with her teacher – as well as a small party that includes Parks and Caldwell – in search of a safe haven after the fences of their base are breached by a horde of hungries.
What follows is a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse genre. There are whiffs of influences from the classics, but The Girl With All The Gifts largely feels like an original story amongst an oversaturated genre. The apocalypse that author Mike Carey has imagined – set predominantly in a bleak, derelict London – and director Colm McCarthy (known primarily for his television work; credits include a series of Peaky Blinders and an episode of Sherlock) has brought to life is all the more frightening for its stark believability.
However, as well as an apocalypse story, there is also a moral one. Newcomer Sennia Nanua is a delight as Melanie, taking in the world with wide-eyed innocence and eagerness, yet capable of reminding her elders that they have good reason to be afraid of her with startling displays of bloody violence. She is as intelligent as she is cunning, and she knows that the key to humanity’s survival lies within her – but she also knows that she won’t survive the procedure. It’s an enormous dilemma to place on the shoulders of such a young child – whether one person’s life outweighs the survival of a greater population.
Nanua’s breakout performance also brings some emotional weight to The Girl With All The Gifts, that emerges in full, beautiful force in the film’s final act; one that brings with it unsettling implications that will last with you long after the credits have rolled.