Main cast: Sennia Nanua (Melanie), Gemma Arterton (Helen Justineau), Paddy Considine (Sgt Eddie Parks), Fisayo Akinade (Pvt Kieran Gallagher), and Glenn Close (Dr Caroline Caldwell)
Director: Colm McCarthy
While The Girl with All the Gifts is billed as and is based on a book marketed as a post-apocalyptic zombie movie, do note that the gore is actually pretty tame. While there are a few scenes that can be queasy to watch for the faint of heart, for the most part, the movie cuts away from showing scenes obligatory in other zombie movies like the whole ripping your guts out of you while you are screaming, etc.
The author of the book of the same name, MR Carey, also wrote the screenplay. The whole thing is set some time in the future, when a fungal infection transforms most folks into zombies, or “hungries” as they are called here. However, the second generation hungries – the kids who are born infected – are different from the typical zombies in that they show the capacity to think, learn, and behave like normal people – aside from their hunger for human flesh, that is. Hence, the surviving humans – who have bunkered down in enclosed military bases, at least in England – round up all the infected kids they can find to study them.
This movie focuses on one such base. Here, Dr Caroline Caldwell learns a research program to discover a cure for the infection, and this program kills and cuts up promising kids that show the best cognitive development. Under the supervision of the soldiers led by Sgt Eddie Parks, the kids are ushered daily into classes conducted by Helen Justineau. Helen is a bit too soft-hearted for her own good, in that she treats the kids a bit too nice at times that they start to see her as the only kind soul in the place. Melanie is the most promising kid in the class, and, much to the discomfiture of Helen as well as Parks, is understandably very emotionally attached to her teacher.
The drama begins when Dr Caldwell decides to have Melanie grace her autopsy table and Helen can’t take any more of the whole thing. The two have a stand-off in the lab, but their timing can’t be worse: the hungries from the outside break into the base shortly after. In the ensuing chaos, five people manage to get out alive: Sgt Parks, Private Kieran Gallagher, Dr Caldwell, Melanie, and Helen. Now they have to find a way to contact someone to get them to safety, and to do this, they have to make a trek across hungries-infected London.
One good thing about this one is the cast. This movie is very well-acted, and newcomer Sennia Nanua’s portrayal of Melanie is especially impressive, hitting the right spots without being grating or overly sentimental like most child and teen actors are often told to do.
However, maybe it’s because of the limited budget, the movie feels strangely muted and underdeveloped. The script often has the characters, especially Melanie, jumping abruptly from point A to F when it comes to character development, so I end up more often than not feeling that there are some pieces missing in the jigsaw puzzle that is this movie. Because of the abrupt cuts in character development, the last quarter act or so makes poor sense at times since the character motivations are so vaguely defined.
I also cringe at having a black guy portray Kieran – a dumb and greedy fellow who stupidly does not see that he is falling into a trap because he’s too enthralled by food and titty magazines. They can replace a black character with a white one played by Gemma Arterton, but it’s okay to have a black guy play a role that feeds into unfortunate stereotypes associated with black men? I tell you, sometimes people behind movies hand people the rope to hang them with. Oh, and Glenn Close’s scientist character is a source of so much bad science. She insists that she can synthesize a vaccine after cutting up Melanie, despite the fact that she is in a makeshift lab with only basic equipment – sure, that’s very believable.
Anyway, The Girl with All the Gifts have an interesting premise and a solid cast, but the movie itself could have been developed a bit more into… well, something with fewer question marks, at least.