Zombie movies are a dime a dozen these days, but this British production offers something slightly off the beaten path. Mike Carey’s novel and screenplay takes ideas from superhero films like “X-Men” and expects the audience to already know quite a bit of zombie history from other films.
There is an appreciated balance here between performances and “flesh eating” that manages to rise above more genre centric horror films. Six time Oscar nominated actress Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs,” “Fatal Attraction”) was the selling point for me, bringing a necessary level of prominence to the independent film playing at AMC Gulf Pointe. The mostly television oriented director Colm McCarthy, takes a real bite out of the film world embracing the “less is more” concept.
In a near future, a deadly fungus has taken hold of a vast majority of the population. The disease turns humans into flesh eating “hungries.” A small military base in England has discovered mysterious children who have been infected with the fungus but have also managed to retain much of their normal human brain function and reason. 11-year-old Melanie (Nanua) is one of the children, the brightest of a larger group who have been confined their entire lives. Melanie and her teacher Helen Justineau (Arterton) have a special connection, and when the base is under attack, they escape along with Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Close) who is desperately trying to find a cure. Aided by Sgt. Eddie Parks (Considine), the small group must carefully navigate their way to safety in a world of flesh eating zombies with one of them as their guide.
The film’s initial story setup is borderline extraordinary as it teases the viewer into the subject matter with curiosities. The audience is introduced to a strange environment where seemingly sick children are treated like incarcerated mass murderers. With all the chaos that happens throughout the film, the narrative remains on the important relationship between an orphan, who thinks of herself as an abortion, and the love of a stranger who disregards the child’s deadly sickness, seeing her as a human. “They present as children,” Dr. Caldwell says, explaining her ambivalence toward experimenting on children. Close’s character adds another dimension of personality to the cast of characters which are rather basic: the nurturing one, the authoritarian, the frightened. I assumed that with Close’s status as an actor, she wouldn’t remain in the film for long, but I was pleasantly proved wrong.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” does seem to run out of story about midway. Many of the discovery scenes are exhausted when the group is forced out in the open and must fight their way through hordes of zombies. These scenes of violence are to appease the viewers who specifically just want to see a zombie battle. We get so much zombie fighting from other sources, I felt those moments distracted from the interesting premise. One of the best moments in the film occurs when Dr. Caldwell finally explains to Melanie, in graphic detail, how she was born. The film’s most suspenseful moments are not fight sequences, but the release of information. The ending very nicely bookends the first half of the film, which reinforces my notion that it’s the middle section they struggled with.
Final Thought: Smarter than average zombie flick that explores human nature with respectable performances.