Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violence/Bloody Images, and for Language
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Written by: M.R. Carey
(based on the novel THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey)
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca & Dominique Tipper
While zombie stories have seemingly been done to death (pun totally intended), stellar examples of undead horror storytelling are still occasionally unleashed on the public. Last year, South Korea’s emotional, tense, and excellent TRAIN TO BUSAN blew me away and I called it “one of the best zombie films in ages.” Well, it turns out that another new zombie flick is also deserving of similar praise alongside BUSAN. Based on M.R. Carey’s acclaimed novel of the same name, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a beautiful story that just happens to have hungry corpses, guts, and a bleak outlook on the zombie apocalypse. This film is like a feature-length BLACK MIRROR episode and I loved every second of it.
Most of humanity has been wiped out by a fungal infection that turns its victims into flesh-eating, decayed “hungries.” Mankind’s only hope lies in a second generation of “hungries,” who crave human flesh and are also able to think/communicate. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is one of these second-generation hungries and attends “school” in an underground military base. There, she experiences kindness from her teacher Helen (Gemma Arterton), cruelty from strict soldier Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine), and fascination from scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close). When the army base is overrun by flesh-eating hungries, a small band of survivors try to keep themselves off the menu by heading out on the road and Melanie stands as the last possible hope for a cure.
On a surface level, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS sounds like it might be cliché or overly familiar. However, it’s safe to say that you haven’t experienced a zombie film like this in a long time. Some reviews have compared this film to 28 DAYS LATER and that praise is well warranted. Still, GIRL has much more originality, emotional depth, and darkness than it initially lets on. The first 30 minutes of the film are almost entirely set within the walls of the underground military base, giving us a good feeling for these characters before bad circumstances become a hellish scenario that has danger lurking around every corner.
As the titular gifted girl, newcomer Sennia Nanua (making her feature debut here) stuns as intelligent “hungry” Melanie and gives an emotional depth to this complex protagonist that many adult performers still fail to deliver on a regular basis. The film’s older cast members are stellar as well, with Gemma Arterton sticking out as a kindly teacher and protector of Melanie. Paddy Considine is especially enjoyable as a hardened military man who starts off with instant hatred towards Melanie, but oddly warms up to her as time goes on. I don’t want to say too much about Glenn Close’s character for fear of spoilers, but it’s been a long time since she’s received a role that’s allowed her to flex these particular acting chops.
It’s also worth mentioning that THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS has remarkably high production values, even though it was only filmed on a budget equal to 5 million U.S. dollars. That’s chump change when you’re looking at a large vision of the zombie apocalypse and GIRL ventures to many locations throughout its plot. This cinematic world feels large, bleak, and threatening. The effects are 99% impressive and convincing, with the 1% belonging to the first big scene of “hungry” jaw clicking and limb twitching. Of course, this scene was revealed in most of the film’s marketing and made it look corny…unlike the overall film.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS also deserves massive praise for having the balls to move its plot in directions that mainstream zombie films wouldn’t dare tread and also maintaining elements of beauty and dark humor. There are laugh out loud scenes that are intentional, but don’t detract from the story’s escalating tension. The ending is truly something to behold and seems to have viewers split down the middle. Frankly, I thought this conclusion was beautiful and completely unexpected in the best way possible. It’s the kind of finale that will leave viewers thinking about it long after the film has ended and screenwriter/author M.R. Carey noted that he was completely faithful to his own source material.
Overall, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is an impressive, emotional, and compelling piece of zombie cinema. There’s plenty of originality that guarantees you haven’t seen a zombie tale quite like this one. The stakes are high, only further escalated by the fact that this film develops its characters in an excellent fashion. Details and plot points are carefully given throughout the perfectly paced nearly two-hour-long running time. One scene of shaky effects aside, this is a near-perfect zombie flick that is sure to delight horror fans and lovers of great non-horror stories alike. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS comes highly recommended!