The Girl with All the Gifts
My brother has known me all his life, and yet he still thinks he can somehow get me to watch horror films. He appreciates their nuances, their longevity, their adrenaline-inducing twists. I appreciate being able to sleep at night and shower in peace. Hey, it takes all kinds, right?
My one weird quirk with this is that zombie movies don’t always fit into that category for me. I write them off as too scary, until something about them intrigues me enough to give them a watch. And I like them! Every single time.
Colm McCarthy’s (Peaky Blinders) The Girl with All the Gifts is one of those times.
Riveting newcomer Sennia Nanua (Beverly) plays Melanie, a second-generation “hungry” (read: zombie) who is held with other children her age in a military compound and studied by the rotating personnel there. She and the other children are highly-functioning zombies; basically, they were infected with the fungal virus while still in the womb, so unless they smell humans, they function completely normally. In spite of this, they’re treated like animals (at best) by the ones who are supposed to care for them.
So with all of that in mind, the thing that struck me the most was how sweet Melanie is. She’s eager to please, quick to learn, and open to loving those around her fully and loyally. In an environment almost entirely lacking love, it’s incredible that she’s so willing to give it.
I say almost entirely lacking love because, as it turns out, there is one person on staff with a heart bigger than her fear. Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton, Gemma Bovery, Their Finest) is in charge of teaching the children and reporting their progress to her superiors. Against direct orders, she bonds with them.
I personally loved all of the classroom scenes (*insert nerd joke here*). Human affection is so craved by the children that any sign of fondness from their teacher visibly refreshes them. That alone just about made me cry (in a zombie movie). Writer Mike Carey (who also authored the book) does an excellent job of telling the heart of the story through these brief classroom scenes alone and then expanding on the themes throughout the film. I know, zombies and poetry. We’re spoiled, people!
Anyway, when their base is attacked by hungries, Helen saves Melanie from the destruction and escapes with a small band of refugees. One of those she saves is the ambitious and driven Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close, Crooked House, The Wife), a woman who admires Melanie for her capabilities as a test subject, and as the main ingredient for her vaccine against the zombie virus. As cold-hearted as that sounds, I appreciated a sort of sterile, clinical POV. It seemed realistic and added another perspective in this fear-riddled, paranoid, dystopian context.
On their journey, Melanie proves herself to be an indispensable help to the group. It’s eerie to see them pass through deserted, zombie-virus-ravaged London (shout-out to the location scouts and art department, phew!). One gets the impression that the virus took its time to spread, to gradually drive everyone away from their homes (or you know, force them to join the zombie ranks). Everyone’s had to adapt to a future they never expected, so they’ve done their best to regroup and organize and survive. It’s fascinating. But what really got me was the end – shame I can’t share it with you. *wink wink*
What I can share is that it asks some very interesting questions. Contrary to Dr. Caldwell’s reports, Melanie proves that she and the other children may share some traits of the undead, but they are very much alive. And if that’s the case, what does that say about their future? About the status quo? If Melanie and the others are a new species, do they need to be protected or exterminated? Which species deserves to be valued – or is it both?
Suddenly this zombie film turned into an existential, philosophical debate that I kept turning over in my mind and I just love when that happens.
I’d recommend this film to horror junkies, but it really exists in more of the sci-fi thriller domain for me. It’s less about zombies eating brains and more about examining what humanity means, and I’m completely on board with that.
Zombie genre, the bar has been raised and set. I’m hungry for more.