The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): The girl with special hunger

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Zombie apocalypse flicks are dime a dozen these days, but “The Girl with All the Gifts” injects some fresh new elements into its genre. While we get heaps of rotting zombies as usual, the movie intrigues and engages us via its interesting story premise, and it is also surprisingly thought-provoking at times as following the gradual awakening of its young heroine to her exceptional position in an apocalyptic world.

When we meet Melanie (Sennia Nanua) during the opening scene, she simply seems to be a bright, polite young girl, and the same thing can be said about a bunch of kids with whom she lived in their isolated place for several years. Although their living environment is not exactly cheery, they happily follow their daily routine without any complaint, and their favorite time is when they study and learn under the guidance of Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton).

However, from the beginning, we notice how constantly these kids are guarded day and night. Each of them is confined in their respective cells, and soldiers guarding them are always watchful especially when Melanie and other kids are taken out of their cells. The kids’ bodies are tightly strapped to wheelchairs, and we later learn that soldiers and other adults including Justineau always apply some special cream to their body whenever they need to be around Melanie and other kids.

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The reason for these extremely careful measures is soon revealed to us when Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) deliberately ignites a dangerous instinct inside Melanie and other kids. During a massive zombie outbreak caused by some virulent fungus strain several years ago, they were infected while they were still in their mothers’ womb, but they did not turn into rotting zombies like other infected people because a sort of symbiosis between the fungus strain and their bodies. While they can think and learn like any normal people, they still have a powerful urge to eat fresh meet and blood, and the movie has a rather amusing moment involved with their special protein source (Hint: it is not meat).

While Justineau has been quite sympathetic to Melanie and other kids, Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) thinks otherwise. To Caldwell, Melanie and other kids are simply a possible key to the survival of the entire human race, and she is willing to do anything for her project, which, according to her, is almost close to the success she has yearned for years. With her benign but determined attitude, Close embodies well her character’s understandable position, and that will make you wonder about how much we can justify ourselves in the name of survival.

When Melanie is about to become Caldwell’s latest experiment subject, there comes a sudden massive zombie attack, and Melanie soon finds herself accompanying a few survivors including Justineau, Parks, and Caldwell. As searching for any possible way to get to another safe place, they eventually come into London, and we soon behold streets and alleys strewn with zombies, which can remain dormant as long as Melanie and her accompanists carefully move around them without any serious disturbance.

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Now you may think the movie becomes another typical zombie movie, but director Colm McCarthy and his screenplay writer M.R. Carey provide enough fun and surprise to hold our interest. I will not go into details for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you that I was impressed by one particular sight of horrible wonder which Melanie and other characters come across in the middle of the story, and I must confess that, as a guy with a PhD degree in biological science, I was amused a lot by the name of a certain big vehicle which appears later in the movie.

While Melanie experiences more of her apocalyptic world, Carey’s screenplay, which is based on his novel, smoothly goes back and forth between horror and poignancy. It is touching to see her feeling more freedom than before, but then we are constantly reminded of her dark nature. Sure, she sincerely wants to do right things, but she cannot help herself at times as shown from one brief gruesome moment involved with one unlucky animal, and there is always the tension between her and other main characters in the film.

Imbueing her character with innocence and intelligence, newcomer Sennia Nanua gives a confident lead performance. She is especially good during one certain scene which may remind you of that famous classic novel by William Golding, and that dramatic scene totally works thanks to her strong, convincing acting although it looks a bit silly on the surface. The other main cast members of the movie are believable as effectively supporting Nanua’s performance; while Close is surely prominent in her shady role, Paddy Considine brings some human nuances to his character, and Gemma Arterton is also fine in her sympathetic role.

As I told you several times before, I have been tired of zombie movies, but I do appreciate clever ones whenever I come across them, and “The Girl with All the Gifts” definitely belongs to that category. Besides having several well-made scenes, the movie has a compelling heroine to watch, and it did a good job of making us involved in her dark coming-of-age drama. Overall, this is an enjoyable genre piece, and you may like it even if you are not particularly fond of zombie movies.

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