“The Girl with All the Gifts” is a horror, drama and thriller movie that paints a story of a not-too-distant future where most of humanity is wiped out by a fungal infection. Highly intelligent, overly polite and seemingly innocent children appear to be the key to survival. The backdrop of the story is set in rural Britain. At the center of this dystopian world is an infected adolescent named Melanie (Sennia Nanua) who accompanies a scientist, teacher and two soldiers as they embark on a journey for survival.
Melanie is very polite and courteous to everyone around her; far from the typical zombie she’s made out to be. However, her captors (the army soldiers) don’t appear to see her as an innocent and harmless child. She is strapped to a wheelchair and brought with other children, similarly restrained, to a makeshift classroom where they are taught miscellaneous lessons.
Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), along with other military personnel like privates Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade) and Dillon (Anthony Welsh), supervise the children and treat them with hidden fear.
Similar to Jonathan Levine’s “Warm Bodies” (2013), the film defies logic. What makes zombie apocalypse movies so popular is the way they catch audiences off guard, which is exactly what the opening sequences in this film does. Audiences will find themselves caught off guard and questioning the mentality of director Colm McCarthy (“Outcast”): Why is the military treating these children like dangerous criminals?
Melanie and her classmates have perfectly normal physical appearances that cleverly hide just how sick they are; a sniff of any bodily fluid slowly transforms them into chattering little monsters eager for a snack or two. There is no mistake that the adults are in charge.
Leading the adults is the stern Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), who—in an unexpected twist—turns out to be the story’s main antagonist. Her only purpose is to learn why the children are different from the zombies outside of the base by studying their dissected tissues. She believes that the cure for the virus can be found in one of the children being held at the military base.
The six-time Academy Award-nominated actress is best known for her bold roles, including Cruella De Vil in Stephen Herek’s 1996 version of “101 Dalmatians.” With her frozen expression and military standard buzz cut, Close delivers an outstanding performance, proving once again just how versatile she can be.
Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is the teacher responsible for educating and studying the children. Justineau treats the children vastly different from the rest of the adults. Although she still remains cautious, she treats her students fairly. Newcomer Nanua delivers a career-defining performance by bringing gentleness to her character, setting her apart from the grotesque, unthinking, flesh-eating zombies from the past. It’s not all that hard for the audience to favor her as well.
McCarthy’s adaptation of M.R. Carey’s novel is beyond exceptional. For the die-hard zombie apocalypse fans out there, the film still delivers the classic and somewhat typical plot devices of the genre.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” hits cinema screens in a limited release Feb. 24.