Starring: Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Cert: 15A Running Time: 111 mins
Release Date: September 23rd 2016
Coming a month or so before we get our new season fix of The Walking Dead is British zombie film The Girl With All The Gifts, based on the bestselling novel by M.R. Carey and like a zombie reawakened by the sweet smell of fresh meat, it’s a salivating proposal. In a genre that is ripe for over gorging on well worn tropes, Carey (who also wrote the screenplay at the same time) has brought something new in his approach which definitely pays off.
A child zombie, Melanie (played by newcomer Sennia Nanua), forms an emotional bond with her ‘teacher’ Miss Justineau (played by Gemma Arterton) at an army research facility where she and others like her are housed for experiments in the hope of finding a cure for a zombie virus threatening humanity. Melanie is a ‘special girl’ possessing a partial immunity to the pathogen that may just be the last hope for mankind if Doctor Caldwell (Glenn Close) can carry out her valuable work. As they go about their daily routine, hordes of ‘hungries’ rage at the fences, chomping to get in and when their defences fall, all hell breaks loose and Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) must shepherd, Melanie, Miss Justineau and Caldwell to safety.
It’s a great set up with Parks wanting to kill the girl, Caldwell to protect her precious specimen and Justineau to love her for the caring and thoughtful little girl she is. Nanua’s performance is a revelation as the monster/child hopelessly looking for a mother figure as the world disintegrates around her and it’s a testament to her performance that we completely forgive her her zombie urges. When Justineau catches her looking at a poster of a cat on a cityscape, she asks, “would you like a kitten?” to which Melanie answers “I already had one” – the blood of it slowly drying on her clothes. Each member of the group has their own priorities and as Caldwell obsesses about the importance of Melanie to her research, Parks tells her that the only “mission now is to keep ourselves off the fucking menu”.
Director Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock), has crafted a bleak, disturbing nightmare made all the more real by the fact that the ‘hungries’ are fast on their feet and more than capable of catching up to you if you run. In one scene you can hear them approaching, running through the trees before they find their way into frame, sounding the dread before they appear, their movements quick and erratic, their mouths drooling.
The only thing more horrifying than the running zombies are the catatonic ones, slowed by inactivity, a dormant state until awoken by loud noise or the smell of human flesh. They sway like Triffids in the breeze in one of the most tense nail biting sequences. Shot in the Midlands around Birmingham, the locations are all real derelict properties from hospitals to shopping centres and for the wider shots doubling for London, McCarthy sent a unit to shoot aerial footage of Pripyat outside Chernobyl giving it a heightened sense of the world gone to ruin.
Fans of the book will be not be disappointed and the casting of all parts is spot on. No-one could play Caldwell better than Glenn Close who brings her wits and steely nerve to the role while Arterton brings a motherly gentleness to a world gone mad with Considine’s tough soldier showing his own heartache as the cracks begin to appear. The film though belongs to Nanua who’s performance anchors the whole story and the audience’s investment in it, all accompanied by a beautiful, haunting, soulful score by Christobal Tapia de Veer.
Devour and enjoy.