Adapted from the novel by M. R. Carey, The Girl with all the Gifts takes place in a world where most of humanity has succumbed to a disease caused by a mutated fungal infection and the majority of the population are flesh-eating “hungries”. At an army base in England, a group of imprisoned infected children, chief among them being inquisitive ten year-old Melanie, differ from the rest as they are able to retain their mental faculties but when the base is eventually overrun, Melanie, along with teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine), Doctor Caldwell (Glenn Close) and Private Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade) journey to find safety and survivors, avoiding hordes of hungries and always on the lookout for Melanie’s infected behaviour.
What’s perhaps most striking about the film is its excellent production design; different from your average zombie movie, the world of The Girl with all the Gifts is overgrown as the entire landscape is practically covered in trees, leaves and moss, effectively leading us to believe that this world has been abandoned for some time and as such, the untamed plantlife has naturally run rampant. It also cleverly fits in to the story since it appears that the city itself has become infected with the fungus and overall, the vision of a deserted Birmingham, left to be taken over by nature, with its buildings covered in grime, is something that makes this film stand out to a remarkable effect. Briefly seeing S.O.S. messages on the roofs of buildings, written in dust, is another subtle, chilling touch.
Also on the design front, the look of the “hungries” is noteworthy as these are zombie figures that we haven’t really seen before; as opposed to a standard virus, these are victims of a mutated fungal infection and as such, their faces and bodies are covered with mould, dirt and bacteria. The accossiated make-up design and costuming is remarkable and gives the film a fresh, unique style. Also the score by Cristobel Tapia de Veer is subtle but incredibly eerie, creepy, otherworldly and effectively conveys a sense of dread.
The Girl with all the Gifts is a welcome addition to the genre of zombie/post-apocalyptic films as although it can inevitably be compared to films like 28 Days Later, it introduces a compelling new concept regarding the rampant mutated fungal infection and how there can be this small group of children who are different from the ravaging hoardes. Whilst seemingly starting and finishing like a lost Black Mirror episode, the story soon hits the ground running and treats us to a fascinating plot about surviving in this threatening unknown environment. Later on, when the group encounters a tall monument covered in pods, we learn of the possibility that the bacteria has evolved to its next phase and, given time, the disease may soon become airborne as the pods eventually open. Overall, the film has a smart, fascinating script that has plenty of compelling ideas and scary, unpredictable possibilities.
The small cast performs well; a dressed-down Gemma Arterton is a great maternal presence, Glenn Close effectively keeps us guessing as to whether she’s up to something sinister or not, and Paddy Considine, apparently doing his best Christopher Eccleston impersonation, goes from being a harsh, unfeeling brute of a soldier to becoming a valuable ally with some laudable depth and empathy. But all are pretty much outshined by 10 year-old newcomer Sennia Nenua who plays the pivotal Melanie with remarkable maturity and skill. Seemingly wise beyond her years, she effortlessly steals every scene that she’s in, commanding the screen brilliantly by sharing great chemistry with her co-stars and effectively being both a likeable, smart young girl and also a feral, deadly, ravenous infectee. Nenua delivers a well-rounded, confident performance and she remarkably holds the film on her shoulders.