The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for disturbing violence/bloody images, and for language
Running Time: 111 min.

Cast: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine
Director: Colm McCarthy
Screenplay: Mike Carey (based on his novel)

Review published January 29, 2017

The zombie horror genre would seem like it would be out of fresh ideas, but the thoughtful and measured The Girl with All the Gifts proves there's still more juice to squeeze out for those who enjoy a well-made tale of the walking dead (note: zombie purists will point out that the infected don't meet the definition of undead zombies).  Scaring audiences isn't high on the agenda of veteran TV director Colm McCarthy (Outcast), with a nice feature debut, and Mike Carey (Tristan & Isolde), who wrote the original novel (as M.R. Carey), but spinning forth a good ghoulish dystopian yarn with characters at least the semblance of nuance is certainly a priority.

The story is set in England at an unspecified time in the future, where we find that Earth may have all but been completely dominated by some sort of invasive fungus that can latch itself and grow inside humans within seconds, turning them into Hungries, aka zombies who seek out non-infected humans and other forms of life in order to sate their thirst for flesh and blood.  Within a heavily guarded military base, Earth uninfected soldiers, scientists and civilians are working diligently on finding a way to cure the virus, experimenting primarily on a group of young boys and girls born infected but have capacity learning. i.e. they are cannibals, but far from mindless.

One star pupil is Melanie (Nanua, Beverley), who is gifted with the ability to solve complex problems, frequently challenged by her empathetic literature instructor, Helen Justineau (Arterton, Gemma Bovery), as well as the director of the experiment, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Close, Anesthesia), who thinks that Melanie's biology holds the key to an antidote to the virus.  However, even the most secure of locations isn't secure enough when the Hungries emerge, leading a small group of them to have to travel and fight for survival with seemingly fewer options to turn to in their time of need.

Nicely performed by a good cast of actors, with young Sennia Nanua holding down the lead role with skill, showing both a vulnerability as well as a ferocity that makes those around her both sympathetic yet always ever wary of what might be unleashed if she were to turn Hungry.  Close, Arterton (whose casting in place of the book's middle-aged black woman character miffed a few fans) and Paddy Considine (Macbeth) contribute well in their respective parts, though it becomes obvious which of the uninfected will carry through the entire film, and which soldiers are going to meet their maker along the way, a la Star Trek's 'red shirts'. 

While the budget may be modest, the scope of the film doesn't suffer, primarily because it calls its shots quite well in terms of where and when it decides to put its money and interest in showing us more from a cinematic perspective.  This is especially true in the set piece Hungries raiding the military compound, done mostly in one long and impressively mounted take.

Jump-scares and gore are minimal, which may displease those into horror aesthetics, but will make it accessible for those who normally are squeamish about the zombie horror genre.  Most of the unease the film generates is from the psychological implications of the attacks on the protagonists more so than the blood-and-guts violence.  It's a rare zombie thriller told with patience, more for those who enjoy the likes of the somber sci-fi stylings of 28 Days Later than the more chiller-minded horror of Night of the Living Dead.

 Qwipster's rating:

2017 Vince Leo