Sennia Nanua begins the film strapped into a wheelchair wearing a Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit, before progressing to a Hannibal Lecter face mask and eventual freedom. Ultimately, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS addresses its dystopian zombie world with issues of race, gender, and generational responsibilities.
ADAPTED from his own best selling novel by M.R. Carey, this absorbing dystopian/infection horror sees humanity ravaged by a fungal disease, were the afflicted become mindless, cannibalistic "Hungries." A small band of hybrid children - including the exceptional Melanie (Sennia Nanua) - hold the key to a vaccine, and go to "school" at an army base where they are simultaneously educated by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and experimented upon by Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close). When the camp and lab is overrun, a muzzled Melanie, Helen and Caldwell escape. Together with Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and soldier Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), the group attempt to communicate with survival cell "The Beacon," while scavenging for food and monitoring the behaviour of their prized asset.
Utilising authentic locations such as RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, and with urban London landscapes doubled by drone footage of Prypjat near Chernobyl, the production is firmly helmed by esteemed television director Colm McCarthy. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS mixes 28 DAYS LATER with that always effective mechanism for terror, children, but also follows Danny Boyle's release for referencing themes from cult entertainment. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is wonderfully alluded to in the mutating mass of decomposing bodies encircling BT Tower, threatening to spread its spores for the "second phase." Pod-like behaviour is also evident in the genuinely creepy notion of standing sleep, where the Hungries react to the slightest movement. It is also consistently grisly and black humoured: for example, Caldwell reveals to Melanie that second generation Hungries were discovered after newborns killed their infected mothers by burrowing out of the womb.
Despite a meagre budget of £4m, the casting of the production is exemplary, especially Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine.
With the zombie genre now bloated to the extreme, there is a now a confused blurring between inspiration and mimicry. Interestingly, Carey's prose shares similar themes and plot points to the PlayStation game 'The Last of Us', which was released the same year as his source short story Iphigenia In Aulis. Both feature a fungal plague, have a last stage of infection where people sprout spores, and the infected overwhelming rely on a senses (smell and sound). Most tellingly, they each feature a young girl who potentially has the cure. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS also taps into our ever-expanding psyche of mortality, evolution of diseases and destruction by environment. Underneath a pounding soundtrack and photography filled with sickly greens and yellows, its heavy handed Greek subtexts are more than compensated for by rounded performances which make you believe in the slow transformation of command. It could be argued that the theatrical appearance of feral infants late on goes against the grain, and that the movie lasts just one scene too long to accommodate its misjudged coda.