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THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is Perfect Horror for Today (Review)

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is Perfect Horror for Today (Review)

The Girl with All the Gifts has an awfully calm-sounding name for a violent, post-apocalyptic survival horror movie. And if that is the sort of thing you like, I suggest you not find out anything more about this film, and go check it out right now, in theaters and on-demand. The gradual reveal of its premise, in the first 30 minutes or so, is wonderfully twisty, but to review this in any way, I will have to spoil what said premise is. And even though the film’s poster includes a quote that somewhat gives it away, I’m also counting on you not to look at the poster first if you’re hardcore about this sort of thing. These will be minor spoilers, but they will be here. Fair warning and such.

This is your spoiler warning. If you are still on the fence about seeing it and need to hear an opinion first, proceed at your own risk.

In a dark prison cell, a young girl named Melanie (impressive newcomer Sennia Nanua) dutifully straps herself into a restraint wheelchair just in time for soldiers with guns to enter and finish tying her head in. They push her chair into a classroom full of other children in identical uniforms, all equally restrained as they learn the periodic table of the elements and stories of classical mythology. Melanie’s favorite teacher is Helen (Gemma Arterton), about whom she writes an adventure story humorously inspired by the only other stories she’s ever heard while living around only soldiers, teachers, and doctors. Helen is touched by the story, and tries to pat Melanie affectionately on the head, but…

Whoops. That’s a really bad idea. Get close enough to these kids, let them smell human flesh, and suddenly they turn feral, and hungry, teeth chattering savagely in anticipation of a meal. They are but the latest evolution of the zombie apocalypse raging above ground, and they’re being studied to see if an antidote can be found to the fungal infection that’s causing all the chaos.

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As in 28 Days Later and World War Z, these zombies, or “hungries” in the movie’s parlance, move fast, bite hard, and infect you quickly–perhaps needless to say, they are winning a very lopsided fight. But these children, including Melanie, are new. Are they 50/50 half-breeds, or merely zombies that are really good at human camouflage? It’s like the age-old question about dogs: do they actually love their masters, or are they just really good at displaying signs we’ll read as love to ensure that we feed them? This is something our lead characters can’t waste time figuring out, as the military base gets compromised, and Helen, Melanie, vaccine researcher Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), and several soldiers led by the stern Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine) have to go on the run looking for safe harbor. Melanie is an asset to the extent that she can pass among the hungries unharmed…but can she be trusted to truly protect her human companions?

If it sounds a bit like The Last of Us, and plays a bit like the Resident Evil games, that may not be an accident. Screenwriter Mike Carey, here adapting his own novel, counts among his writing credits an X-Men video game, and the original Lucifer comic and multiple issues of Hellblazer; he’s clearly pop-culture savvy and understands apocalyptic tales in all media (director Colm McCarthy, by the way, has worked on Sherlock and Doctor Who; ’nuff said). While many comic-book inspired movies fail to truly represent their source material, Carey’s script puts across the vibe of a really good comic or game without being specifically based on one. Each environment provides new knowledge, and the stakes slowly escalate until you realize every random reference dropped in the first half of the film is going to become a clue that pays off metaphorically. And seriously, why has Schrodinger’s cat never been used as a zombie metaphor before? (If it has, and I missed it elsewhere, do let me know in comments.)

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All good zombie movies reflect the society of their time in some way: here, perhaps, the most obvious interpretation is of a political divide that can only see the opposing side as a hostile “other,” and refuse to believe that anybody who embodies aspects of both can exist. Your opponents can’t possibly think for themselves, can they? They must have had their brains infected from an external source, and any signs of decency and understanding they display is a deceitful ploy belying their ultimate evil agenda. Isn’t it?

Without spoiling, the movie does not leave you with any simple conclusions in that regard; it’s a rare zombie movie that gets smarter as it goes along, and offers an ending that truly feels like a solid payoff, and not just the usual “sole survivor gets away, or not.” It’s a shame it has to be promoted as a zombie movie at all, as that revelation is handled in epic fashion, but obviously you need to bring in the fans and warn the squeamish. That knowledge isn’t a deal-breaker; I knew zombies were involved, yet was still thrown off-guard by the beginning. But if you can take a friend who knows nothing and might dig it, they’ll thank you later.

Let me add: I have never personally been a fan of either Gemma Arterton or Paddy Considine. But the former is at least okay here, and the latter is actually really good–age has given them more character and gravitas, and they look like survivors. Which, in this case, is essential.

While it may not be the best movie of the year, it does what it does as perfectly as you’d want. As such, The Girl With All the Gifts deserves all the burritos. Yes, five out of five.

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Images: Saban


Luke Y. Thompson thought he was tired of zombie movies too at one point. Pick his BRAINSSSS on Twitter @LYTrules

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