Valerie Complex is a freelance writer and professional nerd. As…
I am was not familiar with the Mike Cary book The Girl With All The Gifts until I had heard of the movie. This is a zombie film, but not a typical one. You see this is more drama and science than it is gore or horror, which is an interesting take on the genre. So don’t expect Dawn of the Dead or The Walking Dead because you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The UK is populated by “hungries” or “Zombified flesh eaters”. This taste for flesh comes from a fungal infestation which takes over the mind and body and turns humans into brainless zombies — or are they? The title Girl With All The Gifts holds weight because the title character, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), is a flesh eater of sound mind and body, and can control her need to feed. She is so smart, her IQ is above many of her human counterparts. This is what makes her so unique. Her level of intellect attracts the attention of Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), a teacher at the compound where some of the more advanced children are confined and taught. At the compound, Doctor Caldwell (Glen Close) runs experiments on the children in hopes of finding a cure. However, after extensive research, Doctor Caldwell realizes Melanie is the key to a cure.
The danger comes from the “hungries” who lay in a dormant state until they get a whiff of human flesh. Their senses then kick into high gear, and they go bananas in search of their next meal. What makes the situation even more dangerous is the small pockets of hungries with lingering intelligence. It’s the smartest group of zombies you’ll ever encounter. When large groups of hungries congregate, they die and emit fungal spores from their body. Similar to the parasitic ant fungus know as Ophiocordyceps, this mind controlling spore eventually kills its host by eating it from the inside out. In this case, the hungry spores take the form of hardshell pods that are unbreakable until lit on fire or soaked in water.
There aren’t many scary scenes in this, I am afraid, but point of the film isn’t to be scary. Instead, the movie explores philosophy, science, and humanity. It begs to ask the question: can zombies retain part of their humanity and tell the difference between right and wrong? The idea of the hungries being more than brainless zombies is refreshing, but the movie doesn’t do enough to examine that. It focuses on irrelevant details and neglects the bigger picture. For example, there isn’t enough emphasis on the human characters, and how they feel about dealing with the apocalypse. None of these characters seemed too excited about a cure. Why is that? Shouldn’t this be their goal?
Another frustrating issue is no one has clear intentions, with the shadiest of all being Melanie. It’s never made clear as to what she’s thinking. What is her character trying to accomplish? Is she secretly leading this group of survivors on a path of destruction? There aren’t enough answers, which makes it difficult to identify with her character.
Despite the flaws in the writing, newcomer Sennia Nanua stands out most. She has a quiet intelligence that shines through her performance and as a viewer you have no choice but to gravitate toward her. You forget she is more than a child, but that is what makes the character so endearing and so dangerous.
For Mike Carey, I’m sure The Girl With All The Gifts seemed like a good idea to adapt into a screenplay, and then a feature film, but the execution lacks depth. For an audience to be fully invested in the characters we meet, their predicament should have been established earlier in the film. Shows like The Walking Dead reign over The Girl With All The Gifts because the breakdown of society and how people fully function within it is the core of the story. This makes me think The Girl With All The Gifts would have worked better as a television miniseries because there is a better — and bigger — story to be told.
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Valerie Complex is a freelance writer and professional nerd. As a lover of Japanese animation, and all things film, she is passionate about diversity across all entertainment mediums.
I hate to say “the book was better” (especially since I haven’t even seen the movie yet), but the book does address your major critique about not knowing Melanie’s motivations since the book is largely narrated from her point of view. There is little doubt about what she wants or what her goals are in the book.
On a side note, I find the casting for the movie intriguing since it essentially… race-swaps(?) the two major characters. In the book, Melanie is white– this is stated outright on literally the very first page– while the teacher Miss Justineau is clearly described as a black woman. TBH, I was a little worried when I saw the casting because in the book Melanie idolizes Miss Justineau to the point that it is nearly obsessive and I was concerned the movie would turn Justineau into a white savior sort of character.
why would you hate to say something that is true! Damn about the whole white savior thing…sheesh I never even thought about that.