I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Girl With All the Gifts

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a very good new British horror movie and at this point I would like to offer the “Trust in Vern” review opt-out option. If you are willing to just take my word for it that this is good and check it out without knowing anything about it you’ll be able to enjoy the mysterious opening the way I did. Then you can come back and read this. But if you need more information first, keep reading. I’ll try not to spoil everything.

This is the story of Melanie (rookie Sennia Nanua), a young lady around 12 years old who lives locked up in a concrete cell in an underground military base. In the morning when soldiers come in pointing guns at her she dutifully gets into her wheelchair to be strapped in and wheeled into a room full of other kids also strapped into wheelchairs. It’s a classroom, and Melanie would be the kid who always has her hand up first, but they have their hands bound when they don’t have a writing assignment.

The soldiers call these kids “creepy little fuckers” and aren’t supposed to talk to them. Melanie’s favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) seems to be in trouble for being too sympathetic toward them. What the hell is going on here? Why are they so afraid of these children?

Well, as abrasive Sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine, DEAD MAN’S SHOES) harshly demonstrates, these aren’t regular kids, they’re zombies, or “hungries” they call them. A fungus controls their brains. They can seem like normal kids but if they smell flesh (human or animal) they revert to instincts and if you give them half a chance they’ll run and jump on you and eat your fuckin neck before you know what hit you. In this case, in the classroom, they’re all restrained, so when he holds his arm out in front of one of them the kid gets hungry and then the other ones around him follow suit and all the sudden it’s like a chorus of little piranha jaws snapping at the air.

The adult hungries aren’t like that, so Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close, AIR FORCE ONE) is studying these kids who can still think like regular humans. Melanie is particularly bright and enthusiastic. She greets all her captors by name every day and this exacerbates Miss Justineau’s heartbreak over the little girl’s true purpose as a scientific specimen, to be dissected by Dr. Caldwell for the creation of an anti-virus. But a series of mishaps leads to the downfall of the base and these three end up in a vehicle with a few soldiers fleeing for safety. Melanie has to wear a plastic muzzle and usually have her hands bound behind her back, but she proves valuable throwing the hungries off their scent and offering insights into how they work.

It always seems like there can’t really be another good zombie movie, and then somebody comes along and does yet another good one that makes you think “I’ve never seen anybody do it like that before.” In this case it’s director Colm McCarthy (a veteran of TV shows like Injustice and Peaky Blinders) and writer Mike Carey (who wrote a novel at the same time as the screenplay). We have the familiar elements of the swarming, running bio-zombies (like 28 DAYS/WEEKS LATER, minus the camera wobbliness) and the underground military base (like DAY OF THE DEAD) but they seem like incidental elements in this very character-driven story with a smart child zombie as the protagonist. The details of the world, from the effects of the fungus on breathing to the “blocker” cream humans use to hide their smell, is well thought out.

The characters are all interestingly layered. Dr. Caldwell (whose fashion sense resembles Carol from The Walking Dead) is the most standard bad guy, but she starts out seeming like a nice lady interested in Melanie’s mind, and her belief that Melanie has to be sacrificed to save all of humanity is based in pragmatism, not evil. Sergeant Parks kind of goes in the other direction, he seems like an irredeemable asshole at first but shows himself to be mostly reasonable. Miss Justineau immediately shows herself as the conscience of this military operation, and her affection for Melanie is entirely understandable, but her moral decision to protect the girl at all costs could arguably be the wrong one.

And Melanie is the heart of the movie, a little girl with the right attitude to charm any parent or teacher even though her face and shirt are usually smeared with blood and she occasionally reverts to pure animalism, attacking and devouring people or small animals. We root for her to survive and to prove her value to this group, even though we don’t know how loyal she is (or should be) to the human race. There’s a  unique mix of rooting for her victories and feeling a little nervous that she might be fighting for a world that we honestly don’t belong in.

Nanua is key to the character’s success, projecting a defiant optimism that occasionally succumbs to a beastly physicality when stalking meals or asserting dominance over a mob of her people. The pack of feral child hungries she encounters during the group’s trek through deserted London are pretty disturbing. They grew up on their own so they can’t talk, only growl. But they’re smart. They work together and set traps. They truly are “creepy little fuckers,” but also because of what we’ve learned from Melanie and her classmates it’s not like you’d be thrilled to blow their heads off if they mobbed you. They’re still children just doing what they think they’re supposed to be doing.

That’s the I AM LEGEND reality we have to face eventually: fungus is natural. I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way even though that way almost definitely involves them chewing our fucking throats out. Hey kids, I don’t suppose I could convince you that that’s going on your permanent record? No? Tough shit for us I guess, but good luck to you, Generation Hungry.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 27th, 2017 at 11:00 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “The Girl With All the Gifts”

  1. I dig this one a lot. It’s nice to see people still trying to do something different with zombie movies.

  2. This was a cool movie. Played like a mix between 28 Days/Weeks later and the video game Last of Us. Only downside is we’ll probably never see a Last of Us movie because it’s so close to this one.

  3. Love this film. There’s a great bit of timing when the base goes to tits, we’re in the lab, and a hungry is sprinting towards the lab window. Brilliantly done.

  4. For some reason I always keep mixing up THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, GIRL ON THE TRAIN and LAST TRAIN TO BUSAN.

  5. There are like 14 books on the new release rack right now that have the word “GIRL” in the title so some confusion is bound to happen.

  6. Vern, I trust in you. I won’t read this review but I will add this title to my list of horror movies to watch in October. Thanks!

  7. I didn’t get a lot out of this but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    As someone mentioned – visually, conceptually etc this was very similar to a video game- The Last of Us. Strangely enough the game delivers better visuals, better world design, better characters (via mo-cap), better zombie design (they go much further with the fungal thing).

    It’s unusual for a film and a video game to have a plot that can map out against each other so closely, and the game is unusually cinematic. Ended up being a very high bar to pass, and this really doesn’t come close.

    Anyway, Colm has talent but maybe not the budget he needed.

  8. There IS the obvious difference that Ellie is just immune and not a zombie but yeah. I really don’t see the purpose of a Last of US movie unless it’s a live action sequel because it’ll be impossible to re-create what is, imo, a perfect video game.

  9. Those fucking clickers in THE LAST OF US. Jesus, they are more terrifying and disgusting than anything I´ve encountered in most horror movies/videogames. I think it is the fungus-aspect that make them truly vile and repulsive. The fact that they kill you instantly if they spot you is another matter. But, yeah THE LAST OF US. Such a godd goddamn game!

  10. Shoot, have you seen the second Maze Runner movie? I haven’t read the book and I’m not sure when they started to make the Last of Us Game BUT there is a sequence in the Scorch Trials movie that’s a complete Last of Us rip off. Here, I found a scene from the movie complete with Ellie clone.

    UNDERGROUND ZOMBIES (CRANKS) SCENE - THE MAZE RUNNER "SCORCH TRIALS" PT1/2 1080pHD

    UNDERGROUND SUBCUTANEOUS HORN ZOMBIES ATTACK SCENE- FROM THE FILM, THE MAZE RUNNER (SCORCH TRIALS) PART 1/2 -- PART 2 HERE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf...

  11. No I haven´t, Sterny. Thank´s for lettting me know I don´t have to watch it. It seems as imaginative as my dirty laundry.

  12. I kind of like the Maze Runner movies though.

  13. That´s fine. Honestly, I don´t know much about them. They just seem to be aimed toward a much younger audience than myself, like HUNGER GAMES so I never had a real interest in them.

  14. That´s fine. Honestly, I don´t know much about them. They just seem to be aimed toward a much younger audience than myself, like HUNGER GAMES so I never had a real interest in them.

  15. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, SERIOUSLY, SPECIFIC SPOILERS ABOUT THE ENDING

    I thought this one had some pretty serious problems (I think the dialogue is pretty embarrassingly one-dimensional and didactic) but I have to admit, there’s something about the ending that really got to me. It has a somewhat irresistible reflection of the beginning which forces you to reevaluate whatever feelings you may have originally had.

    At the beginning, we’re obviously meant to sympathize with Melanie and think her captors are monsters, but actually I never felt that way. Obviously it’s a terrible life for her, but, you know, with the future of the human race at stake, I’m prepared to sacrifice a few kids to save everyone else in existence. I sympathize, but I also have to be pragmatic. The end, though, turns that logic around when she applies the same rationale to her people. She’s genuinely sorry to murder all the humans, but, you know, you gotta do what you gotta do. Fair’s fair, I can’t blame her for it, because I was willing to do the same thing at the movie’s start. It works equally well if you buy the movie’s logic that the military guys are the worst people in the world at the start, because it means that by the end, she’s no better than they are.

    All and all, not a great movie, but one with a handful of good ideas and a couple good setpieces, and an ending which pays off a lot of its previously obnoxious moralizing qualities. Good job.

    SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, SERIOUSLY, SPECIFIC SPOILERS ABOUT THE ENDING

  16. I liked this movie a lot until it got to its political message which repulsed me from the movie. It was as if they had already decided exactly what they wanted to say and the entire movie was tricking me into following the story until they dropped this turd of (what I think) the political message is. For me it felt like a deception, and this explains my strong instant repulsion.

    Minor spoilers ahead

    I felt like the movie wanted me to think the humans are awful and don’t deserve to inhabit earth anymore, primarily because of how they treat the infected people. Well, they are, uh, killing everybody extremely violently. Excuse “us” for not wanting to peacefully share the space with you, or passively roll over and let you all just rip our throats out as you please? Even the military guys who were meant to come across as mean dickhead guys, it’s easy to imagine that they’ve had so much loss until now that they’re changed because of it. If I remember correctly (it’s been a while since I saw it), doesn’t one of the dickhead military guys even have a little soliloquy where he talks about his kids dying or something?

    I don’t know if the whole overarching motif is meant to apply as a political metaphor also but I figure there’s probably at least some of that, since it seemed like all the survivors are old white people and the new zombie main character is a young black girl. Just seems a bit on the nose and easy.

    I really would have liked this movie a lot more if it had been a little bit less ambitious, which is a weird thing to say. If it had the same focus on atmosphere, effects, visuals, etc. but didn’t try so hard to have a profound and meaningful story, I think it would have been more of a success. Nothing wrong with movies that have profound meaningful stories, but in my opinion it’s usually better if the interpretation is left up to the viewer at least a little bit. This movie’s moral spectrum is pretty black and white and there are not really any gray areas to even think about.

  17. Vincent, this is exactly how I feel about Land of the Dead.

  18. I disagree. I think it’s nothing but grey area. The soldier who seems to be a jerk at first becomes very sympathetic. Glenn Close’s character is very harsh and is an antagonist, but has a legitimate point of view. The first time Melanie becomes a zombie she kills two soldiers who don’t deserve it at all. And at the end, when she turns against humanity, don’t you have a feeling of “uh oh. I’m a human. She’s against me”? I sure did. And even if you did consider that to be a happy ending, her classroom setup with Miss Justineau does not seem sustainable in the least. The extreme lack of cut and dryness was part of what I found so compelling about this movie.

  19. You make some good points. I guess I didn’t see the ending that way when I saw it. I felt like the movie was trying to tell me that that was the best outcome and I was meant to start rooting for the zombie people while thinking the humans got what they deserved.. Including the one “good” human she allowed to live. This was a very difficult viewpoint for me to even try to consider. Your response indicates that maybe that ending isn’t necessarily meant to be seen as a strictly happy ending, and that “Uh oh, I’m a human, she’s against me” feeling was intentional.

    I guess what I mean is I felt like the movie was saying, “here’s the new lord of the land, worship it, or die like the other no-good humans” as a foregone moral basis which the story was laid upon afterward. For example, when she kills the soldiers that didn’t deserve it, the vibe I got was more, “here’s the way things are now bud, get with it, this new world is a wild place” rather than, “Watch out, maybe she’s not such a good guy after all”. If you think the movie is accepting a human-centric, “oh crap, she’s actually sort of the enemy, we’re screwed” view, I guess I didn’t pick it up, so I should probably try watching it again. I appreciate your view and I’ll check this movie out again.

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