A few years ago, when Andy Black and I wrote The Dead Walk (www.noirpublishing.co.uk), we focussed on the quality zombie films because there are so many bad films that add nothing whatsoever to the genre, and indeed by their sheer generic quality serve only to harm the genre.
Time has proved our approach the correct one, and while Andy and I would love to produce an updated version of The Dead Walk (good publishers feel free to get in touch!), the book still stands up strongly to this day. But if we do get to write an updated The Dead Walk, The Girl With All The Gifts will have to be one of the new jewels in its crown. For, without doubt, The Girl With All The Gifts is the most important and influential zombie film since 28 Days Later.
I will reveal as little of the plot as possible as I want people to see the film the way films always should be seen… with fresh eyes and an open mind.
In The Girl With All The Gifts the human race has been scourged with a fungal disease that causes those who become infected to become mindless flesh-eating zombies known, by the uninfected and for obvious reasons, as ‘hungries’.
The only hope for a cure is in an army base in England with a group of second-generation zombies, infected children that still retain their intelligence. Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) experiments with the children, knowing the solution lies with them. While she treats the children as lab rats that speak, their teacher, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton),s treats them as human being, forming an especial bond with the brightest of her pupils, Melanie (Sennia Nanua).
When the base is attacked and overrun by Hungries, Melanie, Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sargeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and two soldiers escape. And from this point the film heads into territory at once familiar and very different to anything we’ve seen before.
Making up for a small budget by using talent, innovation and imagination, this is a superb, intelligent cinematic experience, one that you will think about long after the film is over.
Like Night of the Living Dead, this film explores the effect a new revolutionary force (the Hungies) may have on the existing order (the uninfected humans). Nothing can ever be the same again. In this respect it has much in common with Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend, for one man’s hero is another man’s villain, a demon to some may be an angel to other. The Girl With All The Gifts challenges perspectives, we have very rigid perspectives and this film doesn’t pander to them. As Romero memorably wrote in his script for Dawn of the Dead: ‘We’re them and they’re us.’
The performances are excellent, particularly Gemma Arterton, showing she has a long-term career in front of her with a performance of great strength and sensitivity, and Sennia Nanua, as the titular girl with all the gifts – Melanie, really she anchors the whole film, an achievement at any age, a future star.
The Girl With All The Gifts is evocative of John Wyndham’s work in some respects, particularly The Day of the Triffids (itself an influence on 28 Days Later) and The Midwich Cuckoos. But this is no ‘cosy catastrophe’; in fact, in this respect it has much in common with the apocalyptic threat implied in Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass, rather it is both the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning, alpha and omega.
It also has a strong ecological core to its being; we are destroying the natural world, and in The Girl With All The Gifts, the natural world fights back, with overwhelming force, it illustrates our arrogance and utter insignificance in the face of Mother Earth, just as capable of destroying as birthing us.
Overall, a superb film, one that truly deserves to be seen on the big screen to get its full emotional impact.