Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Colm McCarthy
Stars: Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua
Released 23rd September 2016
Cinema, it would seem, has had its fill of those YA movies. ‘The Hunger Games’ came to an end last year, ‘Divergent’ looks set to move to TV and ‘The Maze Runner’ is on hold. Yet their departure has left a gap, especially for those who grew up with them. So step forward ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’.
The setting needs no introduction. This time it’s what remains of London after a devastating virus turns just about everybody into zombies or, as they’re called, “hungries”. Outside the city is a military facility where a group of children is held under armed guard. They have the virus as well, but not all the symptoms so scientist Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) is using them to develop a vaccine. But when the hungries overrun the compound, she escapes with a teacher, a couple of soldiers and one of the children, a very bright little girl. They go in search of safety, but the hungries are never far behind.
The regimented lines of children strapped into their wheelchairs and clad in orange suits grab your attention straight away. There’s no apparent reason for them being confined: they appear completely normal – Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is particularly likeable and clearly very intelligent – so why the cells, the armed guards?
It’s an intriguing mystery that draws you in but, once it’s solved and the hoards of hungries have made their first appearance, it turns into more of a chase movie. And it’s not a particularly scary one. There’s plenty of blood and gore, either when the hungries are killed with bullets through the head or getting stuck into some food, but it’s no substitute for sustained suspense. The jump-out-of-your seat moments and a few tense scenes – Melanie leading everybody through crowds of sleeping hungries where any noise or the slightest sniff of human flesh could wake them up is easily the best – don’t really make up for it.
Abandoned London will ring a loud bell with zombie fans. It’s done convincingly, with the city overrun by nature, full of empty buildings and ransacked branches of Next, Waterstones and Lidl, as well an overgrown BT Tower. Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ from 14 years ago explored the same territory and now it’s the turn of ‘Peaky Blinders’ director, Colm McCarthy, to bring it back to the big screen.
But there are two reasons why ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ stand apart from most of the other post-dystopian movies: there’s clearly some intelligence behind it and, in Melanie, it has a strong emotional core. You engage with her from the outset, and she sustains your sympathy throughout her journey and her fight for survival against the virus. You’re even on her side when she gets hungry. She’s fascinated by Greek myths and legends, hence the title which refers to Pandora and her famous box, and Melanie is a proper Pandora in her own right. It’s an impressive debut from Sennia Nanua and she more than holds her own against the more familiar names of Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine.
‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ may have created a whole new genre – the thinking person’s zombie movie. Even if you might not have to think quite as hard as the makers would have you believe.