The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)
In the midst of a viral outbreak which has turned much of the world into zombies, a band of British soldiers and scientists use a group of children who are able to resist aspects of the virus to develop a cure.
We’ve not been starved of offerings from the zombie genre over the last decade, either on the small screen or in multiplexes. For me, the best of these efforts have been in the form of the Sang-ho Yeon’s satirical nail-biter Train to Busan (2016) and Balaguero/Plaza’s spanish dreadfest REC (2007). I’d give more than a footnote to the Brian Cox narrated Exit Humanity (2011) too.
Part BFI-funded, “The Girl With All The Gifts” belongs to this special grouping. Director Colm McCarthy takes choice-cuts from the genre; the satirical pulse from Train To Busan as an underlay to the script and REC’s putrid tension in his taut set-pieces; reformulating them into a standalone entry which will be a genre mainstay for some time to come.
Thematically immersive – and not dissimilar in this way to Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) – the film goes diligently beyond the usual-satire, which can border on parody, endemic in the zombie-apocalypse industry; instead opting to pose some conceptual questions about our role in the biosphere. At its core, the film is another coming-of-age drama but this isn’t exactly Stand By Me (1989). Beginning life as a rather standard ‘survivors-trapped-in-a-bunker-from-the-living-dead’, the plot changes tac and nestles the story of the girl of the film’s title in a ‘lifeboat’ movie. Whilst Chernobyl may double for parts of London – in the aerial photography at least – the airless and desolate city location encloses the audience.
The tight cast spun around our child-lead give strong performances – with Glenn Close’s amoral scientist and Paddy Considine’s soldier (think Hicks from Aliens (1986)) really standing-out. As the film goes on, it’s clearly Sennia Nanua who brings the film together. You wouldn’t think that a ‘zombie-kid’ could be so believable.
The screenplay gets it just right with the dash of humour. In a final scene which splits critics, I’d probably fall on the side of those arguing it’s rather needless and a more thoughtful conclusion might come out of some post-shoot editing to remove this sequence, leaving the visual power of the penultimate scene to sit and smoulder.