TIFF Journal: ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’

'The Girl with All the Gifts'

Movie Rating:

3

Yes, another zombie movie. They keep making these. Thankfully, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is one of the good ones. Even though most of the movie feels incredibly familiar, it has a handful of interesting new ideas crammed in alongside an excellent cast and some fairly well-staged set-pieces.

The film is no masterpiece and certainly won’t appeal to anyone who hasn’t already fallen for zombie mythology. Nonetheless, there’s good material in here that would have felt exciting a few years ago when everyone was still ga-ga for the flesh-eating undead. At least this thing is surprisingly watchable. You certainly can’t say that about every zombie flick, or even most of them.

Adapted from a novel by Mike Carey (who wrote the script himself), the story takes place a few years after a zombie outbreak. It opens in a secret military facility where a gang of children are taken to tests and classes strapped to wheelchairs by military officials. At first, we’re supposed to be surprised that Melanie (Sennia Nanua) and her classmates are treated so poorly. However, it turns out that they’re a rare breed of a fungal-infected zombie clan who seem entirely normal as long as they can’t smell human flesh. A stern scientist played by Glenn Close wants to chop open their brains and distill a cure. A kind-hearted teacher (Gemma Arterton) just hopes that people will treat them humanely. As soon as that dynamic is established, there’s a zombie attack on the base forcing Melanie, the scientist and the teacher to hit the road, along with some army blokes led by the great Paddy Considine.

From there, the film turns into a pretty standard zombie tale with cowering humans working their way through urban ruins and dodging zombie attacks in the hopes of finding another colony of survivors. First-time filmmaker Colm McCarthy shoots it stylishly, clearly influenced by the color scheme and landscapes of the videogame ‘The Last of Us’ (which has similar fungal zombies as well). The movie has some intriguing ideas, with a humanized zombie causing moral dilemmas amongst a group of survivors. It feels like a more slickly-produced and better-acted version of ‘Day of the Dead’, just without adding anything to the thematic content of that thirty-year-old movie.

The cast are all impressively overqualified, so the drama always rings true. There are some strong suspense sequences as the survivors attempt to tiptoe through sleeping monsters, and the scare set-pieces work even if they’re all variations on zombie attacks staged many times before. ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is quite a well-made zombie flick by people who are clearly passionate about the material. Unfortunately, it also kind of proves how tediously overplayed the zombie theme has become. If a zombie movie this well done feels like little more than a minor achievement, is there really anything left to be done with the genre?

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