Whenever a zombie epidemic breaks out in a movie the chances are the infected will be the carriers of some blood-soaked social commentary. Famously, George A Romero’s living dead series skewered imperialism, consumerism and similar ills, and his successors have followed suit with satirical critiques of their own.
The subtext in director Colm McCarthy’s zombie film The Girl with All the Gifts, adapted by Mike Carey from his own novel, is somewhat harder to find, but the existential horror of the story’s unsettling close is inescapable.
The movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic near future where a fungal infection has been turning humans into fast-moving, flesh-eating ‘hungries’. Ten-year-old Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a human/hungry hybrid with a genius IQ, may be the key to a possible cure. Glenn Close’s furiously driven scientist Dr Caldwell certainly hopes so.
“Sacrifice and survival”
But before she can find out, a horde of hungries overrun the army base in the Midlands where she is conducting her research, forcing a small group of survivors – including Melanie, Caldwell, sympathetic teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and hard-nosed sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) – to flee towards London, where further perils and revelations await.
Sadly, The Girl with All the Gifts doesn’t make the most of its promising set-up. McCarthy’s direction is functional rather than inspired and some of the dialogue and acting is more than a little clunky. Besides, you can’t get away in such a well-worn genre with having characters act with wilful stupidity just to advance the plot.
Yet in its final third, the film does deliver some genuine chills. Humanity’s fate hangs in the balance as Melanie and Caldwell tussle over questions of sacrifice and survival, and McCarthy gives us some startling images – the sight of what has become of London’s BT Tower is particularly charged – and some weighty moral issues to ponder.
Certificate 15. Runtime 111 mins. Director Colm McCarthy