When you think about zombie movies the first thing that comes to your mind is probably not Glenn Close. That is certainly not an insult – she has six Academy Award nominations and is certainly an accomplished actress. With that said, she doesn’t come to mind when I imagine casting choices for a zombie flick. With that said, she does fine in The Girl With All The Gifts which itself is a fairly unusual zombie movie.
A relatively low budget film produced in the United Kingdom, The Girl With All The Gifts takes place in a (what else?) rather dystopian future where surviving members of the human race struggle to survive in heavily fortified sanctuaries. It seems that a fungal infection has turned most people into savage killers with a taste for human flesh.
I know what you are thinking – this is standard fare for quite a few horror films, especially zombie movies. Where this movie stands apart is that the focus is not so much about the zombies but the surviving humans. Don’t get me wrong, there are the requisite scenes of zombies attacking humans but these moments are actually quite restrained.
The Girl With All The Gifts opens with a bit of mystery for the viewer. We see children living in sparse cells being carefully detained and strapped into wheelchairs by soldiers who then take the children to a classroom for their daily lessons. As viewers, we have no idea why these children are living in cells, strapped into wheelchairs while having rifles pointed at there heads or what this settlement of people is doing. During class one particular young girl, Melanie, reads a story she wrote to the class and the teacher finds it so moving she gently touches Melanie in a gentle gesture of affection. This moment is captured beautifully and shows that affection is a rare thing for these kids. And for what the adults think is a good reason.
It turns out these children are hybrids. Partly human and partly bloodthirsty cannibal. It seems that a type of fungus has infected the human race and acts as a symbiotic parasite. These infected humans become crazed zombies – not the resurrected dead but more along the lines of what we see in The Last of Us. The hybrid children are known as hungries. They come from women who were infected while pregnant. It is said that these babies literally chewed their way out of the wombs of their mothers. The adult humans wear a special ointment to mask their scent as it tends to drive the children into a frenzy. One soldier demonstrates this by rubbing off some of the ointment and letting the children smell him. It is an unsettling moment to see all of these children writhing against their restraints in their desire for human flesh.
Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) is studying these children in hopes of finding a treatment for the infection and the next specimen she chooses to dissect is Melanie. As is typically the case with a movie in this genre, the settlement is attacked by a horde of zombies.
Keep an eye out for Glenn Close’s sister during the attack scene; she had long wanted to be in a zombie flick. During the confusion Melanie finds herself out of the lab. At one point she loses control and attacks a soldier – her first taste of human flesh. A small group of survivors flees the area with Melanie who turns out to be very useful because other infected humans do not attack her and she can them away from the group.
The cinematography is one of the most striking aspects of The Girl With All The Gifts. To convey a ruined civilization the producers flew a drone through Chernobyl. The results include backgrounds full of aged and decaying buildings which lend themselves wonderfully to a sense that the world has staggered away from a devastating apocalypse.
The next paragraph will give away some key spoilers. If you would like to avoid these then go ahead and skip to the verdict.
During their travels the group discovers massive fungus formations with hundreds of spore pods ready to burst. Melanie also begins to assert herself as a dominating presence when she encounters a group of feral children infected by the fungus. Melanie ultimately chooses to ignite the fungal spores on a particularly massive structure which in turn dooms the surviving humans on Earth except for one. Her teacher from the beginning of the film awakens within a sealed habitat. She must spend the rest of her life in that tiny space to avoid becoming infected. Having established herself as the leader of a tribe of feral children, Melanie gathers them around for a lesson from the teacher.
In all honesty, I find Melanie’s actions to be perfectly understandable. While the adult humans remember a world before the fungus began infecting people, Melanie was born as a hybrid. Of course she would see herself as a perfectly natural being and she would not act to exterminate her own kind. As Melanie puts it, she and her kind are the future of Earth.
The Girl With All The Gifts can be a bit slow at times. Perhaps that is due to the low budget or the fact it follows the book of the same name. With that said, the film is worth a watch – especially if you are looking for a thought provoking story.