The Girl With All the Gifts
2017. Directed by Colm McCarthy.
Zombies movies have been slowly losing their luster in recent years. Production studios and publishing houses have squeezed every drop of heart’s blood out of the shambling hordes to deliver a handful of stone cold classics and a gangrenous mob of mundane horror offerings. Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts thankfully belongs to the minority. Featuring a stellar central performance, poetic cinematography, and a haunting story about the definition of humanity, this is a remarkable effort in the genre.
Despite the outstanding technical attributes, the entire film hinges on newcomer Sennia Nanua’s chilling lead performance as Melanie. Seesawing between polite, inquisitive child and inhuman killer fluidly throughout the film’s duration showcases her uncanny physicality and wonderfully subdued demeanor that combine in truly unsettling ways as the narrative expands. M.R. Carey’s script, based on his novel, is a breath of fresh air. The viewer is dropped into the center of a world already lost. There are rules to these frightening creatures, the soldiers trying to destroy them, and the hybrid children caught in the middle, but the viewer is not spoon fed the information. Instead it is seeded within the nuanced screenplay and carefully parceled out as the action progresses, leading to some stomach churning revelations.
This is the best part about The Girl With All the Gifts. Things begin en media res, with Melanie being held captive in a military research center. She has the love of her teacher, played by Gemma Arterton, in a maternal turn, and she has the ire of the center’s unscrupulous lead scientist, a gleefully campy Glenn Close. The premise is then methodically built around a bizarre classroom, toying with the viewer’s sensibilities before pulling the curtain only halfway off. It is at the end of the first act when Simon Dennis’s sublime cinematography truly begins to shine, starting with a calm tracking shot through a storm of undead combat and then sustaining throughout with longing, blood drenched close ups of Melenie and restrained wide shots of the environs. There’s an aerial shot of a sleeping city that not only accentuates Dennis’s visuals but blissfully realizes McCarthy’s directorial vision.
Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score blends ominous child like voices with distorted notes to create a nightmare lullaby. The grim ambiance is enhanced by Liza Bracey’s world weary costume design and Monica McDonald’s fungal makeup effects that present the zombies as torpid predators, laying in wait for the scent of human flesh. Each element is aligned to present an atypical apocalypse with an elegant purpose. The Girl With All the Gifts keeps the focus on the child at its center, exploring the innocent and often terrifying ramifications of the abuse that the young endure at the hands of their ill advised caretakers, stripping away the usual conflicts of a survival film to expose the dark naivety at the center of a heart born in world long gone.
Available now for digital rental, The Girl With All the Gifts is an excellent horror film. Filled with gratuitous head shot blood splatter, bickering survivors who consistently dance around the evils they must do, and the usual trappings of a flesh eating “And Then There Were None”, it will not disappoint genre lovers. However, underneath these cliches lies an engrossing story about the price of sacrificing our young for the greater good that resonates all the way until the film’s disturbing, but absolutely satisfying conclusion.