The Girl With All the Gifts (Revelation Film Festival)
Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close,
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…an astute, ruthless, and troubling take on the familiar tropes of the zombie apocalypse.
Every time we think the venerable zombie sub genre is just about played out, something comes along to prove there’s (un)life in the old shambling corpse yet.
Adapted from MR Carey’s novel of the same name, The Girl With All the Gifts puts a fresh spin on the undead apocalypse that posits a second generation of zombies that arise after the mindless first: children, possessed of reason and intellect, but still beholden to a terrible hunger for human flesh.
In a secure military installation in post-outbreak Britain, a group of these special children are being studied. Ruthless Doctor Caldwell (Glenn Close) sees them as mere test subjects, and is more than willing to experiment upon and dissect them in hopes of finding a cure. Sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) has lost too many men to the zombie horde to see them as anything but a deadly and immediate threat. And Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), the children’s teacher, cannot help but see them as human, despite the danger they pose.
When the installation is overrun (as always happens in this sort of thing), the survivors, including the above recognisable trio, are forced to rely on one of the zombie kids, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), in order to escape and survive in the outside world. A child of exceptional intelligence, she shows affection for Helen and compassion for the others as she guides them through the ravaged countryside – but how much of that is genuine? As the ever-dwindling group make their way to London, they begin to learn the true nature of the zombie infection, and it soon becomes apparent that Melanie might not be an aberration, but the first of a new order of humanity.
The Girl With All the Gifts is one of that strain of peculiarly British horror that rather delights in transgressing the “cozy catastrophe” trope of, say, John Wyndham. It’s a low-key affair, but built on a rigid and logical foundation; the “zombie rules” are well thought out and the safety precautions taken against Melanie and co., from Hannibal-style facemasks to scent-masking gels, make sense in context. When the horror hits – and it does – it’s all the more impactful for taking place against such a dour and prosaic backdrop. There’s no shortage of gore here, and anyone with issues about children in peril – or, indeed, children doling out peril – is in for a rough time.
The kids are, of course, the key, and it’s a particular fear of our own genetic replacements that permeates The Girl With All the Gifts. Zombie movies have been used to examine all kinds of issues going right back to Romero’s first loop around the track, but this one breaks new ground by forcing us to look at our anxieties about our own children; the idea that the world they are built for has no use for us, and neither do they. That, despite any care or affection shown to us by our offspring both we and they know, deep down, that we are obsolete – and far sooner more completely than we would like. This is the fear of a fast-moving world, and the fast-moving familiar strangers that inhabit it, and it’s an incredibly timely and troubling subtext.
If The Girl With All the Gifts falls short of “instant classic” status, it’s only be the thinnest of margins. This is an astute, ruthless, and troubling take on the familiar tropes of the zombie apocalypse.