When it comes to the proven zombie genre it’s not easy to standout amongst the waves of reanimated corpses. Colm McCarthy’s The Girl with All the Gifts, however, shines a heartbreaking light on a world plagued by the undead in his story about finding light in the darkness. In it, a scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
What immediately grabbed my attention about this film is that it’s alluring in its vagueness—an entire classroom of children strapped to chairs, unable to move, is a curious way to set the stage for any movie, especially one of the undead variety. Even more so is the fact that McCarthy doesn’t unveil any of its major details right at the start—we’re left to wonder what, exactly, is going on here. At first we just see these innocent looking children, curious about the world and wanting hearing stories of a past they’ll never know, treated like animals. It’s no doubt a powerful start to what eventually becomes a captivating story of survival.
While it’s supporting characters are strong—played by Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, and Paddy Considine—this is Melanie’s story (played brilliantly by Sennia Nanua) whose life consists of a tiny cell and being bound to a wheelchair. And much of the first act is spent establishing her world, however small and confined it is, while something so much bigger (and frightening) is happening all around her. It’s here where McCarthy’s film takes hold, molding a zombie movie unlike any other.
And part of the reason why The Girl with All the Gifts is so refreshing is because of its focus on the future—it’s not only about Melanie’s journey, but the journey for all children that have to grow up in this scary new world. The hook, however, is that all the children share the same hunger for flesh as the undead. It’s that simple wrinkle that propels McCarthy’s film into a new and altogether fascinating direction, one with its fair share of thrills, too.
I can’t dig into this one too much without spoil its best parts, but I will say that The Girl with All the Gifts is wall-to-wall great—it’s middle half does feel a bit familiar but it’s the final act that’s an absolute stunner, and it’s one that you’ll likely never see coming. And speaking of familiarity, I have to say that the film’s story is shockingly similar to Naughty Dog’s brilliant The Last of Us—so, in a way, McCarthy’s The Girl with All the Gifts might be the closest we ever get to a live-action adaptation of the game (that’s a win in my book). One of the benefits of a particular genre (zombies, especially) becoming so saturated is that it presents storytellers with the opportunity to do something different, something we’ve never seen before. And it’s a challenge that The Girl with All the Gifts met with open arms and an open, blood-hungry mouth.