By Phillip Guy Ellis (Northampton, England)
Star – Paddy Considine
Genre – Horror > Zombie
1 hr 40 minutes
Certificate – 18 (U.K)
BAFTA – 1 Nomination
Awards – 7 Wins & 10 Nominations
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So The Girl With all the Gifts, a zombie flick from director Colm ‘Peaky Blinders’ McCarthy. I have not got into Peaky Blinders but I hear it’s very good and with Paddy Considine cast in his army fatigues in the lead here for Colm’s first feature film then why not? Here’s hoping for 24 Hours Later meets Dogs Soldiers.
According to IMDb trivia the film shares similar themes and plotting to the PS4 video game the Last of Us, a long line of recent films doing this to draw a new and younger audience. We can’t be far away from film and video games merging and you and I interactively cast in those films. How cool would that be! Both feature a fungal zombie plague, both have a last stage of infection where people sprout spore pods, both zombies overwhelming rely on a single sense (smell and sound respectively), both feature a young girl who potentially has the cure who needs to be moved through the infected zone, both focus on her relationship with a gruff reluctant father figure. This is the Last of Us, the movie in all but name.
According to director Colm McCarthy an influence on the style was Gareth Edwards’s cracking low budget classic Monsters (2010). To add atmosphere to the films desolate nature some of the aerial footage was shot by a second unit in the ghost town of Prypjat, near Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. Some of the film was also shot in Birmingham and you don’t get any more desolate than that! To complete the abstract locations, ideas and entities in this decent horror none other than Glen Close stars in this movie. I can’t imagine her shopping at the Bullring between scenes!
Sennia Nanua … Melanie
Fisayo Akinade … Kieran Gallagher
Dominique Tipper … Devani
Paddy Considine … Sgt Eddie Parks
Anamaria Marinca … Dr. Jean Selkirk
Gemma Arterton … Helen Justineau
Anthony Welsh … Dillon
Glenn Close … Dr. Caroline Caldwell
Mia Garcha … Melanie Double
Grace McGee … Anne
Eli Lane … Kenny
Connor Pratt … Peter
Joe Lomas … Joe
A zombie virus has ravaged the Earth, a strange fungus like infection turning humans into hosts and making them rabid and in need of live flesh. On a heavily armed British army base there are a group of infected children who have somehow not been totally consumed by the fungus and can still think and function normally as humans, although rabid when exposed. They have to be strapped down when out of their cells as they still crave human flesh. Sgt Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) runs the base and his job to contain the kids and keep the rest of the zombies out of the said base, now massing at the perimeter fence.
13-year-old Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is the special one of the group and the most inquisitive, nice enough to get her guards and teacher to let their guard down. The kids are taught normal school stuff in the day by Mrs Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who also takes a shine to Melanie. But there’s a sinister side to the base in the form of Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), a government scientists running a small team trying to find a cure for the plague by experimenting on the kids. Melanie is next to being strapped down on the slab. But just as the scalpel knife is about to go into the kid’s skull the zombies breech the wall and overrun the base, Parks, teacher, Caldwell, the girl and some soldiers just getting out in time in a truck.
In the open countryside relatively zombie free they debate having a dangerous infected girl in the Bedford Truck with them. But she somehow is the key to all of this and teacher and doctor persuade Parks to keep her alive, settling on a straight-jacket and muzzle as they scavenge for food to stay alive and plan to make it to a portable survival lab in Birmingham to complete their work. But the young girl has other plans.
First of all as far as zombie films goes this one is a ‘Zombies running very fast’ one, not your slow hands out in front ones. Somewhat scarier than the film there is actually a real-life fungus that mimics the bug in the film. The O.unilateralis, or zombie fungus, thankfully only infects carpenter ants. When the ants are first infected they undergo severe whole body convulsions (as seen in the human hosts in the movie) and the fungus then starts controlling their brains. Eventually, the zombie fungus directs the ant to climb up a tree where the ‘next stage of the fungus’ life cycle’ occurs. Specifically, as seen in the movie, the fungus grows through the victim’s head to produce a long stalk; when the conditions are right, pods open to make the fungus airborne, allowing it to infect many more hosts. Interestingly, the ant zombie fungus also protects its infected host from some environmental pathogens, as also seen with Melanie’s character in the film. Let’s hope that doesn’t jump to man like Ebola does.
Paddy Considine is perfectly fine as the bossy sergeant with a gun and great to see Glen Close back on screen, be it with her brutal and non-flattering military haircut. Gemma Arterton is the token totty (and God she is that!) and the debut performance by Sennia Nanua as Melanie the standout turn here. Always amazes me how kids can be such great actors. It feels like a long episode of Dr Who at times although fairplay with the downtown deserted Birmingham scenes for getting the zombies out of bed early for the crowd scenes.
It’s certainly an atmospheric and creative zombie film, dare I say smart, some new ideas and old ones gelling nicely. Here are certain things you expect and like in zombie films and those are aplenty. It comes together well in that British way low budget action horror movies seem to do in that empty autumnal English landscape and always racing forward. It’s fairly tense as they get legged across that gothic English countryside seeking sanctuary and never dull. It’s not a Hollywood ending though as the film gets grimer and grimer. But it’s an above average British horror and so we should watch it just to support that fact in Brexit Britain.
IMDb.com – 6.7 /10.0 37, 234(votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 84% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 67% critic’s approval
LA Times – ‘Like Melanie, The Girl with All the Gifts is neither dead nor alive but somewhere in between’.
The NY Post- ‘Filled with bleak-yet-gorgeous scenery and meditations on survival’.
Globe & Mail – ‘A wicked, gory and even occasionally funny take on George A. Romero’.
Entertainment Weekly – ‘It’s a film for people who thought they never needed to sit through another zombie flick. It’s also quite likely the strangest entry that will ever appear on Glenn Close’s IMDB page’.
New York Times – ‘The Girl with All the Gifts doesn’t really venture into new territory, but it does a decent job of reminding us why zombies are so scary, and so interesting’.
Los Angeles Times – ‘It’s got some future-world smarts that sporadically elevate it above the junk that dominates this genre, and they help carry it through the routine spatter-and-gore moments and sci-fi clichés’.
The Star – ‘The real draw here is the young people. Who, probably not coincidentally, are the ones who will enjoy The Girl with All the Gifts the most’.