While the wave of reanimated corpses still has us as gripped in 2017 as in the Romero days of 1968, Hollywood struggles more and more for a way to keep us infected with our fascination with #zombies. Just as 28 Days Later reinvented the zombie genre with fast-moving munchers, 2016's The Girl with All the Gifts gives another spin on the tale, putting children at the forefront of the outbreak, used as both a weapon and a cure for zombification.
We have already seen the likes of Warm Bodies give us a sympathetic zombie in the form of Nicholas Hoult, and CW's #iZombie does much of the same, but the mainstream cinema genre is still stocked full of flesh-hungry undead and much of the same. Away from the likes of the uber-flashy and all guns blazing The Walking Dead, there is a resurgence in zombie films that try to break the mould. We already saw #TrainToBusan wow critics by confining the action to a claustrophobic space at the tail end of 2016, but around the same time, #TheGirlwithAllTheGifts sadly flew under most people's radars.
Pools Of Talent
The film stars Glenn Close as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, a soldier/scientist who attempts to cure a mysterious fungal outbreak by experimenting on children. Close excels by being somehow even colder than the corpses that now roam the English countryside, but her performance is wonderfully balanced by the lovable but soppy Gemma Arterton. As the world around them falls apart, the action focuses on a military-controlled facility, inhabited by hybrid children who retain their memories and feelings, but still crave the warm crunch of human flesh. The children live as normal a life as possible, while Arterton's Helen Justineau is their class teacher. She struggles to distance herself from the dangers of an outbreak and the motherly instinct to protect the children, but she is frequently reminded by the rough 'n' tough soldiers around her.
Helen develops a particular bond with Sennia Nanua's Melanie, who can't be praised highly enough as the film's unintentional lead. We already tipped Nanua as a breakout star of 2016, and her talents easily stand up against the likes of Close and Arterton. Often children in films cross into that annoying category, so to have a child lead is always a brave choice, especially with such a dark subject matter. Video games The Last of Us and Telltale's The Walking Dead series feature a young girl as the main hero, and the formula continues to work here. Nanua spend the majority of her time chained in some Hannibal Lecter-esque mask to amp up the #horror of the film by constantly reminding you that she isn't just a child, but actually as much the villain of the film as the hero.
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If the cast weren't enough to get you hooked, the premise itself is a unique selling point. Based off M.R. Carey's 2014 novel of the same name, the film was created as a homage, dutifully done by Carey himself, who also wrote the script. Like the film, the novel flew under the radar, so Carey himself told Mom Advice he wanted to do something a little different:
"We went a slightly different way in the movie, especially when it came to point of view. Where the novel moves between the five main characters and lets us see what’s going on in all of their heads, the movie sticks with Melanie all the way...But it’s a case of two different paths through the same narrative space. The ending is absolutely faithful to the book."
World War Z gained harsh criticism for its almost complete departure from source, however, The Girl with All the Gifts strayed just far enough, but still ties to the original. Some might be a little bored with the "fast moving" zombies, in favor of your classic shufflers, but you need to take into account that they are effectively two wholly different sub-genres of zombie films. The film's humanized version of the dead gives another more modern take on what has come before.
The Hype Train
However, possibly the best bit about The Girl with All the Gifts is its subtlety. Just as Train to Busan started small and grew to become a pretty big deal, Gifts is much the same. Get on board now before every hipster sits blogging about how it made zombies cool again, or the office film bore moans how they didn't like it. An underappreciated affair, Gifts has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 83%, which puts it streaks ahead of certain superhero grudge matches from last year and sci-fi adventures with Pratt and Lawrence. Where the film does its best work is by refusing to compromise; it knows it was never going to be a Captain America: Civil War or any other of the big blockbusters, and nor does it try to go up against the (reportedly) final Resident Evil film. Where Screen Gems is solely focused on sticking Milla Jovovich in a tiny red dress and blowing up the remnants of humanity, Gifts pits itself as a highly intelligent zom-rom, almost so much, you nearly forget it is a zombie film.
Admittedly, it is hard not to draw comparisons with the likes of Danny Boyle's two "28" films, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Boyle seemingly stepped away from the genre with 28 Weeks Later in 2007 and we have been hungry for more since. The Girl with All the Gifts builds on the gritty Britishness of Boyle's work and keeps the human element of a zombie apocalypse. Perhaps it is the typical British reserve that makes Gifts a more refined affair than its American counterparts, but it really works by hyping up the bleakness of the situation.
Given the overarching presence of movies and shows like The Walking Dead, it is clearly the human element of a zombie apocalypse that we largely tune in for, proving that humans are actually more deadly than the creatures they become. Thankfully it looks like the genre is learning, as we move away from gory effects and grisly demises toward the scientific possibilities that this could be our future. I'm not saying that Great Britain will be gripped by a zombie outbreak and we'll be forced to chain up children, but it is a more interesting and plausible idea than the Umbrella Corporation destroying us all. When it comes to a toss-up between Jovovich, Ali Larter, and Wentworth Miller vs. Close, Arterton, and Nunua, I know which film I would pick. The Girl with All the Gifts could genuinely be the best apocalyptic-ish film in years, so grab yourself some brain popcorn and settle in.
Check out the trailer for The Girl with All the Gifts, and don't forget our poll below!