It says a lot about the state of things that movies about the end of the world have recently become not just popular but also extremely plausible. It seems like every time I look at a list of upcoming films, I see predictions of fear, desperation, and apocalypse. Almost every end of the world scenario now seems to come with zombies. Perhaps people are taking that famous line from Dawn of the Dead to heart. When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk with Earth.
The British film The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the latest examples of the apocalyptic genre. It has everything that we’ve come to expect from films like this: flesh-craving zombies, blighted urban landscapes, soldiers trying to maintain order as the world collapses into chaos, sinister scientists, children faced with rebuilding the world, and that one lone idealist who doesn’t want to give up on the present. It’s a familiar story but The Girl With All The Gifts tells it well.
In this case, the end of the world has been brought about by a fungal infection. Those afflicted not only lose the ability to think but are also transformed into flesh-eating maniacs. Interestingly enough, the term zombie is never used in the film. Instead, the infected are called “the hungries.” I assume that’s because the infected aren’t actually the living dead. In fact, even after transforming them, the infection still eventually kills them.
(If you really want to freak yourself out while watching The Girl With All The Gifts, consider that the fungal infection is actual thing, though it only affects carpenter ants. For now…)
In an isolated army base, a group of children are kept in cells and guarded over by soldiers, like the gruff Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine). They are experimented on by scientists, like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). And they are taught by a kind-hearted teacher named Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). One of the most intelligent of the children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who often asks Helen to tell the class a story.
The children are often bound and required to wear masks. The adults are under strict orders not to touch or even get too close to the children. Why? Because the children are hungry too. Born after the end of the world, the children are unique in that they crave flesh but they also retain the ability to think and speak. The soldiers view them as freaks and potential enemies. Dr. Caldwell views them as test subjects. Only Helen views them as children.
You can probably already guess where this is going. When the hungries overrun the army base, only a small group of people manage to escape — Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, another solider, and Melanie. They eventually make it to London, which is now overgrown with vegetation. Some of the film’s most haunting and tense moments come as the group attempts to maneuver through a crowd of docile, unsimulated hungries. They know that making the wrong move or the least little sound will result in the hungries waking up and attacking.
It’s in London that a lot is revealed about both the nature of the disease and why Melanie is, as the title states, the girl with all the gifts.
For the most part, it’s all very well done. The film has such a strong opening and powerful ending that it’s easy to forgive the fact that the middle of the film occasionally drags. Director Colm McCarthy creates some haunting images of the post-apocalyptic world and, even if he does borrow a bit heavily from 28 Days Later, at least he’s borrowing from the best. He makes good use of his cast, too. Glenn Close is as perfectly sinister as Gemma Arterton is perfectly idealistic. Sennia Nanua is both sympathetic and a little bit frightening as the girl who might eat you as quickly as she might save you.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a good movie but it left me feeling incredibly depressed. Post-apocalyptic ruin no longer seems as safely far-fetched as it once did.