Genre: Zombie Horror, Drama
Set in London, several years deep into the zombie apocalypse, The Girl with all the Gifts follows the story of a young girl called Melanie (Sennia Nanua) kept and schooled amongst other children in a military base under heavy guard. But she’s not simply a girl; she’s a human-zombie hybrid that may hold some kind of cure for the zombie epidemic. The facility is breached and in the chaos that follows, Melanie ends up rushed off along with the teacher that she so adores, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), a Sgt who despises and fears her kind (Paddy Considine), and a Dr who wants to use her brain to create a vaccine (Glenn Close). On their way to Beacon, a larger military base with the promise of some safety, they must work together – or die.
In the way that it freshly tackles a science fiction or horror concept by building it around a singular moral or ethical question, watching The Girl with all the Gifts I couldn’t help but be reminded of another independent British film recently rewarded with a widespread release – Ex Machina (2015). Ex Machina’s question might be ‘just because it acts human, does that mean you should treat it like one?’ and that of The Girl with all the Gifts a more sympathetic ‘just because it isn’t human, does that mean you shouldn’t treat it like one?’ You can’t treat the new creatures like humans, because they aren’t, and they might eat you. At the same time, just because they might hold a cure, what gives you the right to dismember them in order to save yourselves? Of course, whilst Ex Machina addresses the ever-building global paranoia about advances in technology and artificial intelligence, The Girl with all the Gifts only serves to offer a relatively fresh take on the zombie horror genre. It is not the first of the genre to use the zombie as a platform for social themes and it will certainly not be the last. The relevance of the theme it tackles, if any, is unclear.
The film is shot and graded with a typically British gritty tinge that is neither interesting nor uninteresting. The editing is decent, the acting is decent. I was pleased to see Paddy Considine taking a lead role, less pleased to see his early antagonism and more pleased to see his soft heart open up throughout the film. It’s the way he becomes accepting of Melanie throughout the film which is one of the most compelling things about it.
Amongst its other chief achievements are the visionary way in which post-apocalyptic London is green and overgrown and strangely pretty; several sequences featuring a gang of feral human-zombie children hunting in the streets; and its magnificent soundtrack, at once beautiful and sinister. In one scene, Melanie tucks into the flesh of a bird from atop a building. The soundtrack accompanying displays simultaneously her childlike beauty and the horror of what she is doing.
However, there is something flat about the way The Girl plays out, particularly at the start, where the production design fails to offer anything interesting and one has to cringe through some awkward classroom scenes featuring an uncomfortable platonic relationship between teacher and student. It may be the adaptation from novel to screenplay that offers a cause for the sometimes unmotivated dialogue that seems to skip developments in story. And though Sennia Nanua doesn’t give a bad performance as Melanie, I feel as though a risk was taken in adapting a book in which the main character is a little girl and the stories of the other characters revolve around her – not least a character that is half zombie. It doesn’t always pay off. At the end of the day, we can’t relate to her.
Conclusion: The Girl with the Gifts ticks all the boxes of a good film but really fails to deliver anything exceptional.