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article imageReview: ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ finds new way to tell tired story Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 24, 2017 in Entertainment
‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is a unique take on the zombie narrative that sets a coming-of-age story at a pivotal moment that will decide humanity’s fate.
With the plethora of zombie movies that have been recently released, riding the waves of popularity of The Walking Dead, it can be difficult to find a unique story amongst all the noise. However, select indie filmmakers are discovering less can be more even in a genre now known for its bloody exuberance. If one considers the most successful and acclaimed undead narratives, it becomes apparent many of them shared a minimalist approach that focused on the characters rather than the grey hordes. The Girl with All the Gifts contributes one more distinctive voice to the din.
In an isolated military facility outside of London, a group of children are kept in individual locked cells and moved at gunpoint under total restraint. Their daily routine includes classes taught by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and their favourite subject is history because it justifies her reading them Greek myths. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is her star pupil — bright, thoughtful and exceptionally well-behaved. However when the compound is breached by the amassing infected, only a small group manages to escape: Melanie, Justineau, Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine) and a couple of other soldiers. The doctor is confident she can synthesize a vaccine for the virus, but first they have to find their way to safety through the throngs of “Hungrys.”
Much like 28 Days Later this isn’t a through-and-through zombie movie, but a film about a fungal infection that has infested people’s brains. Its origins or how long ago the blight began is unimportant; the fact is it spreads through bodily fluids and most of the country has fallen. The narrative drops audiences into a pivotal moment in the story, where the fate of humanity will be decided — either they will be saved or annihilated. But the solution is much less clear-cut and the odds shift frequently from one outcome to the other.
The script is very subtle and draws the viewer along the journey of discovery and decision, though it’s never really clear who will be the one to decide the future of the human race until the choice is actually made. Information is revealed gradually and naturally within the narrative, never tending toward exposition; as a result, audiences are permitted room to wonder and guess until the movie provides answers. Melanie is unquestionably the central character, though she represents different things for each of the adults: to Justineau, she’s a child in need of protection; to Parks, she’s both an asset and liability to the mission; and to Caldwell, she is the most important survivor in the world.
The film’s conclusion is unique, making it largely unpredictable and certainly one of the least conventional in the horror subgenre. The narrative often questions the characters’ ethics and the place for morality when the world is ending. Each of the actors explore these subjects in ways that are loyal to their fictional personalities, while imbuing them with the appropriate emotions or lack thereof. Nanua is especially impressive as she comprehends the complexity of her character and her position in the movie in spite of being so young and this being her first feature.
Writer Mike Carey and director Colm McCarthy have created a picture that is unexpectedly touching and thought-provoking, while exploiting a popular genre to ask some interesting questions.
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close
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