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The Girl With All The Gifts - Review

The Girl With All The Gifts

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IF THE zombie genre is another, like the superhero one, that seems overdone at the moment then The Girl With All The Gifts does at least attempt to freshen things up at times.

Disturbing, horrific yet also intelligent, Colm McCarthy’s film – adapted from his own novel by Mike Carey – frequently finds new and interesting things to say about humanity and survival instinct. But it can’t maintain the high standards set during its opening two thirds, eventually succumbing to one too many genre troupes and a surprisingly unconvincing climax.

The film is at its most potent during the opening scenes, as a young girl, Melanie (12-year-old newcomer Sennia Nanua), is imprisoned and shackled by heavily armed soldiers, who then lead her to a classroom full of similarly restrained children for lessons about science and stories of Greek mythology.

Their teacher, Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), is a kind figure, who Melanie has clearly taken a shine to. But she is an all too rare breed. The other main people in Melanie’s life are a sometimes brutal soldier, Paddy Considine’s Sgt Eddie Parks, and a cold-hearted scientist, Glenn Close’s Dr Caroline Caldwell, who wants to experiment on her in order to find a cure to the fungal infection that has turned most of the Earth into flesh-craving ‘hungries’.

When their compound becomes overrun, this tiny group is forced to go on the run, along with two more soldiers, in a bid to find a new safe haven. But as Melanie starts to understand her own power, the dynamic between the group begins to change, particularly once it becomes clear that she could hold the fate to everyone’s survival.

Armed with such a strong cast, it’s little wonder that The Girl With All The Gifts is at its best when allowing them to play to their strengths. Hence, debates about what it is to be human and the threats posed by nature and evolution are given added weight by the quality of the performances from the likes of Close and Arterton. Nanua, too, displays a maturity beyond her years to channel both child-like wonder and innocence mixed with something altogether more dangerous.

The use of striking imagery, particularly in its depiction of children, also makes for uneasy viewing – not just because of what they are being subjected to, or being asked to perform, but also because it is children in the roles. And while horror has a long history of using children in unsettling ways, it does beg questions beyond the film’s parameters about what we’re asking young actors to do.

It’s perhaps for that reason that some of the later scenes, in which Melanie finds her feet, struggle to convince, particularly when veering into a Lord of the Flies-style subplot involving other child hungries.

While some of the more familiar genre conventions, such as the ability for adults to act stupidly in the face of high danger, fly in the face of the intelligence that has come before it. It’s as though McCarthy is a little too mindful of certain genre requirements such as the need for graphic zombie kills.

Had the film maintained the courage of its convictions, The Girl With All The Gifts would have really stood out from the masses, much like the original George Romero films or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Instead, it promises more than it ultimately delivers.

It’s a solid genre entry that grips throughout. But it just falls short of the classic status that – at certain early points – had seemed so within reach.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 51mins
UK Release Date: September 23, 2016