The Girl With All The Gifts
by Colm McCarthy (dir), M.R. Carey (wr)
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 03 March 2017 /
A little girl holds the secret to humanity's survival--if two women can resolve their differences over what her life means. Is she the hope of the future...or the end of everything? Gemma Arterton / Helen Justineau
Glenn Close / Dr. Caroline Caldwell
Paddy Considine / Sgt. Eddie Parks
Sennia Nanua / Melanie
In The Girl With All the Gifts, a young girl named Melanie (Nanua) has a daily routine: wake up, get locked into restraints, and be taken to a classroom with several other children. She is treated as if she is a wild animal or a test subject by most, except for Miss Justineau (Arterton), her teacher. By contrast, Sgt. Parks (Considine) wants to eliminate her and Dr. Caldwell (Close) seems to be ready to engage in some more...intrusive research when it comes to Melanie.
We see that the soldiers and scientists take special precautions around these children. We also know that things outside are very bad--and getting worse.
The strange, unsettling environment in which she lives only slowly comes into focus. Melanie is indeed a test subject; her mother (and those of her classmates) succumbed to a deadly fungus while pregnant. Those women died and were reanimated...and their children were "born." Growing up, Melanie and the others have proven that they can think and are capable of some self-control, though when provoked, their violent, cannibalistic natures are quick to surface.
When the camp's precarious security fails, only a handful make it out in one of the camp's armored personnel carriers. Melanie is taken along, as the infected (also called "hungries") do not respond to her presence; she is one of them. Making their way to the hope of sanctuary, the few survivors make some harrowing discoveries, chief among them that their fate might well be in Melanie's hands.
Working from a script by Mike Carey (adapting his own bestselling novel), McCarthy delivers a taut, engaging narrative that is very different from any other zombie thriller. While it offers some of the tropes familiar to fans of the genre--the cold scientist, the hair-trigger military man--it finds plenty of new things to say about all of them. Most importantly, the movie finds reserves of humanity and purpose in every character.
Close, as Dr. Caldwell, does not present a clichéd "evil scientist," but makes Caldwell into someone raging against her own limitations--in this case, the limits of science and her own skills--knowing how essential it is that she finds answers. Arterton digs beneath the surface of an empathetic teacher, showing us that Helen Justineau truly loves her kids, but is sharply aware that they are dangerous and quite possibly the monsters everyone else thinks they are. Her love is tempered with fear, which leads to some amazing scenes with Ms. Nanua, who is truly stunning as Melanie.
As Melanie, she plays an innocent whose instincts are only barely under her control. She does not fully realize what she is until they are out of the camp, and she sees the hungries up close. Her existential crisis drives a great deal of the latter half of the movie, as she tries to define herself in this hellish world.
Considine delivers another strong performance as Parks, the career military man who is holding on, one eye on the road and one eye on Melanie. Much like the others, there are depths to his character that aren't apparent at once; it's clear that he feels he (by extension, the military) failed to protect civilization from this threat and he wants to pounce on any perceived threat with even greater ferocity because of that. He doesn't want to fail again, which sets him up for some truly awful situations later.
The Girl With All the Gifts is available now on demand. It's been considered one of the finest horror movies of the year, with a lot more to say than most in the genre. With some truly inspired performances and a terrific script helping elevate it, this is one girl you'll want to watch. Maybe with the lights on.