The Girl with All the Gifts: A review
*** Some spoilers ***
Currently on Amazon Prime, The Girl with All the Gifts is a 2016 film directed by Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders). Starring newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the cast includes Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton (Hansel and Gretel) and Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum).
The Girl with All the Gifts is a zombie movie.
Unlike most zombie movies, this one concerns a fiercely intelligent little girl who happens to be a zombie. Written by Mike Carey (Peaky Blinders, The Boy on the Bridge), from his book with the same title, like 28 Days, it is set in England.
What sets this movie apart from others in this genre is its point of view.
Rather than a story focused on the struggle of survivors to find safety, it is about an awakening and self-acceptance, a story about letting go and the willingness to change. As Melanie, Sennia Nanua is a standout. Her performance alone is a reason to see this film.
In a barricaded research facility, nine-year old Melanie’s room is a jail cell.
Each morning, before the soldiers come, she hides her only possession, a picture on a greeting card from the world before the “hungries” came. As she waits in her wheelchair, she places her hands where they can bind them. Before the soldiers wheel her to school, she greets each one with a cheery “hello.” They ignore her efforts to connect.
School is a room within the compound. Melanie joins a class of twenty-five or so. Like Melanie, each student is restrained.
All the children sit quietly as Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) begins the lesson. A bright student, Melanie loves Miss Justineau who is fond of her. When Miss Justineau touches Melanie’s shoulder, Sergeant Parks scolds her. Touching any of these children it is a dangerous move. To make his point, Parks approaches another student and bares his arm. The student clicks his teeth together rapidly, triggering the same reaction in all the children, except Melanie, who stops herself.
By seeing the clicking teeth reaction to the sergeant’s bared arm, Melanie understands why the soldiers fear her and her classmates. The children are dangerous.
She knows that hungries roam outside the compound. She knows that classmates who enter Dr. Caldwell’s lab never leave it.
Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) is convinced she’s close to a cure.
Soon, she’ll find something to fight a fungus that destroys memories, turning its victim into a killer. Searching for answers, Caldwell dissects the brains of her subjects. Despite Miss Justineau’s protests, Melanie is her next subject.
Unlike other hungries, these children can think and experience emotions.
But, they are still killers and Caldwell prepares while Melanie is strapped to an exam table. When Miss Justineau tries to rescue Melanie, marauders, intent on stealing food and supplies, drive outside hungries into the compound. When the men break into the lab, Dr. Caldwell is injured.
Melanie saves Miss Justineau by killing the man attacking her.
Sinking her teeth into him, she has her first honest-to-goodness zombie meal. Compared to her daily bowl of writhing worms, the man tastes like the chef’s special in a five star restaurant.
Determined to protect her teacher and knowing that her zombie tummy is full, Melanie guides Miss Justineau to safety.
Still determined to dissect Melanie, a limping Dr. Caldwell follows them. As Sergeant Parks and few other soldiers are leaving, they stop the truck to pick up Justineau and Caldwell. Melanie wears a muzzle and rides on the truck’s roof.
Soon, Melanie wins the trust of Parks by outwitting the hungries and finding ways around them.
Using walkie-talkies, Melanie and Parks scout for safe passages. In the city, the group finds that many hungries are changing. The fungus inside them has now broken out of their bodies resulting in huge stalks and pods.
Dr. Caldwell warns: if the pods break open, the human race is finished.
Soon, they find a movable research lab, a place that offers safety but no food. Although she is dying, when Dr. Caldwell sees all the equipment, she breathes a sigh of relief. She wonders what size head clamp Melanie wears.
In the meantime, as she noshes on the occasional feral cat, Melanie looks for supplies.
When the last soldier dies, leaving only Parks to protect Miss Justineau, Melanie makes a discovery. The hungries that killed and ate the last soldier are children. And like Melanie, they can think. Unlike Melanie, they are feral. Waiting for Melanie’s return, Dr. Caldwell has taken steps to prevent Miss Justineau from interfering while she plots Melanie’s dissection.
After confronting and neutralizing Dr. Caldwell, Melanie makes a decision.
When that decision leads to the unintended death of Parks, she grieves. Can she protect Miss Justineau?
The story ends when Melanie turns a corner in this new world where teachers are valued.
If I were a teaching, I’d love to have a student like Melanie, but first I’d hide my cats.