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The Girl With All The Gifts is A Wonderful New Twist on the Tired Zombie Trope

“Our Greatest Threat is Our Only Hope”

I wrote a review a few months ago on The Girl With all the Gifts, after perusing the novel — which I mentioned then was hard to stop reading, even to eat! The clever and thoughtful zombie-type story was the first book in a while that I literally couldn’t put down, and I’m excited to report that the movie brought me the same enjoyment. It is a movie that makes you think about our future as humans, and brings up many moral dilemmas in the process.

The Girl With all the Gifts does take us in the same basic direction as all classic zombie horror flicks do, that’s true. But it’s so much better than movies like World War Z, which to me was a truly disappointing film in many ways. The Girl With all the Gifts is set in an apocalyptic world where there are creatures that used to be human, called hungries (not zombies), in hordes waiting everywhere, ready to eat the surviving humans. They are fast and savage, and you will not survive an attack.

Ok, yes that’s the same. But what makes this movie so different and special is one, the way the hungries became what they are, and second, our unique little protagonist Melanie, played brilliantly by newcomer Sennia Nanua.

Melanie is just a normalish (I know it’s not a real word, but it fits) little girl who is smart, curious, happy, loving…and oh, is a zombie. But this doesn’t make her a campy monster. It makes us empathize with her even more as we watch her struggle to fit into a human world she doesn’t understand. Watching how the guards treat her when they fit her with a Hannibal Lector type mask, and she jokes with them, “I won’t bite!” She becomes the poster child for anyone who has been bullied or dehumanized.

Synopsis: Twenty years ago, humanity was infected by a variant of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Humanity has all but been destroyed. The infected, referred to as hungries, quickly lose their mental powers and feed on the flesh of healthy humans. The disease spreads through blood and saliva, but can also spread through spores created by the fungus. The few surviving uninfected humans live in heavily-guarded areas. Only a small group of second generation children are partially immune to its effects. At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied and subjected to cruel experiments, to try to find a cure. But one little girl, Melanie, stands out from the rest. After the base has been breached by hungries, lead scientist Dr. Caldwell, the children’s school teacher Miss Justineau, and two soldiers along with Melanie, embark on a journey for survival.

The British film was beautifully cast, and I think this is very important since they had a relatively small budget to work with (reportedly $5.2 million; half what they spent on 28 Days Later).

The acting needed to be superb, and I feel that it was. The casting of three of the four lead characters as female and the story being about capable adults having their basic humanity be threatened by a young African American girl is very socially relevant. Gemma Arterton as Miss Justineau, the teacher that Melanie adores, shows us how hard it is to change our way of thinking when it comes to children. We could see the difficulty she had in seeing her student as anything less than a smart little human girl. We watched as Paddy Considine, who played an initially cold and detached Sgt. Parks, become kinder and more of a caretaker as the movie goes on. Glen Close was an amazing and surprising choice as the cruel and calculating Dr. Caldwell. Many asked why she would even be in this seemingly small zombie movie.

Close shared with EW “I thought it was a very smart script,” she said “Colm’s a very, very good director.”

The actress also had another, more personal reason for wanting to appear in the film. “My sister-in-law is a zombie freak,” reported Close. “She’s seen every zombie movie multiple times and her desire was to be in a zombie movie. I said, ‘If you can get yourself over to England, you can be in a zombie movie.’ So, she’s in the movie!”

Still, first and foremost, Sennia Nanua blew me away, as Melanie. Watching the myriad of emotions an actress can have, go across this young girl’s face, it’s hard to believe she is a newcomer. When she changes from human girl to being one of the hungries, it’s subtle, yet chilling and intense, and is done better than most adult actors could do. I expect to see her in more movies to come. She is a true rising star.

Written by comic book author Mike Carey (Lucifer, Hellblazer) and directed by Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock), I was surprised to find out how the movie came about. Instead of being a straight adaptation of Carey’s 2014 novel of the same name, he wrote the screenplay and the book at the same time. The Girl With all the Gifts manages to be a breath of fresh zombie air (fungus filled air, I know). The apocalyptic outbreak becomes a kind of evolutionary conflict where we wonder if the desperate, cruel humans may not actually deserve to survive. What makes human kind worth saving? We also see who ultimately is the smartest one of the bunch. I can’t tell you much more about the story…it could be spoiled so easily.

One super interesting thing is that the zombie fungus in the story is based on true facts in nature. If you are interested; Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is the parasite behind “zombie ants.” If you look it up on Google, you can see how an infected ant is hijacked and forced to “climb to the highest place it can reach—to a leaf fifty feet or more above the forest floor.” From there, the fungus bursts forth from the poor ant’s head in the form of a sporangium that allows “thousands of spores” to “spread for miles,” with the help of the wind. That’s all I can say about that. You can do your own homework, but it’s pretty crazy, and it’s real.

The only problems I had were a few special effects that were less than perfect (especially the CGI blood bursts) because of budget. And I also felt that a few of the feral kids you see later in the movie are dressed a bit too cute for their own good. But…. I love this movie, and the book too. Your Zombie Girl suggests taking the time to check out both, if you are a reader. If not, this is a movie that may be hard to find in the US right now, but it’s worth looking for. Right now, I think it’s only available on Directv.

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