Although it hasn’t had a wide release in North America I had a chance to see The Girl With All the Gifts the other day at one of my local cinemas. I was pretty jazzed to see it based on the trailer I had caught on the internet a few months ago but wasn’t entirely sure what to expect other than that. I knew it was going to be kind of a zombie movie, it kind of reminded me a bit of 28 Days Later, and it was written by a writer I enjoy, Mike Carey. I am pleased to report that what I got from the film was both exactly what I expected and a whole lot more, as well.
For one, I was spot-on about the similarities between this film and Danny Boyle’s small-scale 2002 rage/zombie thriller, 28 Days Later. Both of these films are modestly budgeted British productions, both feature zombies that aren’t exactly zombies, there’s a road trip to get to safer ground, and both focus more on the quiet human-scale problems of the characters rather than go full on World War Z. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these similarities take anything away from the experience of watching the film. More than anything, it just means that if you happened to really like Boyle’s movie you’ll more than likely really enjoy this one as well.
I’m pretty firmly planted in that particular camp of cinemagoers and really appreciated the ground-level tension and human drama that screenwriter Carey and director, Colm McCarthy, brought to the proceedings. The Girl With All the Gifts is, by no means, a gorefest, nor does it simply trade in clichéd jump scares and pander to the lowest common denominator like so many of the horror films in theatres today. I’m sure the budget had something to do with this movie playing it somewhat close to the chest, but this story has more in common with classic horror films of the past, taking its time and unfolding at a very deliberate pace. They choose to slowly ratchet up the tension, getting the audience really invested in the story and characters while looking for answers to the questions the movie poses before finally indulging in explosive, but controlled, moments of violence and terror.
They don’t spend countless minutes world-building and explaining how things have ended up the way they have. Instead, we start the film with newcomer Sennia Nanua in an inspired and nuanced performance as Melanie. She is our protagonist and our cipher for the events unfolding. She is also, technically, a part of the overall problem of the film. Melanie is one of the infected; one of the many “hungries” who now populate this world that has fallen to a fungal outbreak. There’s an almost absurdist quality in how the film shifts from youthful innocence, to survivalist horror (all encapsulated in this one character) but does so with a grace and intelligence that serves the material well.
It’s a smart and ambitious film that doesn’t hit you over the head with its philosophical questions (though they certainly are there) or its post-apocalyptic narrative. An entertaining and provocative film that is worthy of your time and effort to seek out.