They say the zombie subgenre is out of gas. Maybe that’s true when it comes to straight-up classic zombie movie structures. But fresh ideas are all over the place. You don’t have to look that hard to find movies like 2015’s Maggie, for instance, and everyone loves Korea’s Train to Busan. Now you can add The Girl With All the Gifts to the recent list of zombie movies that add something cool and new to what some call a dead subgenre.
It’s hard to believe this film even exists. It has the feel of a limited release indie movie, and yet looks gorgeous and has an incredible name cast in Glenn Close, Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton. It’s thoughtful and smart, and contains the pedigree of an awards film, yet The Girl With All the Gifts has no lack of gore and thrills. It feels like a quiet anomaly given today’s dearth of middle-budget films, particularly in regards to horror.
It counts for a lot that the actors are so great in this because there aren’t many. While we get plenty of background swarms of soldiers and zombies, the film focuses on just a handful of folks in a desperate situation. Most important of them all is the girl herself, Sennia Nanua’s Melanie. Nanua delivers an amazing performance, capable of giving us a whole character within the film’s first couple lines. It’s a challenging role for such a young performer. Melanie might be the calmest, maybe even smartest, character in the whole film, and yet the film also needs her to be totally feral and dangerous at the same time. She disarms you, just as she disarms those around her, with her incredible poise and patience. But don’t turn your back.
The plot is pretty straightforward, though the film takes its time revealing the entire scope of it throughout its first act. The world is overrun with zombies, and a military outpost has a bunch of cute little kids that they strap into wheelchairs and try to educate. These children have a version of the zombie virus which allows them to be regular humans so long as they don’t catch the scent of potential food, at which point they switch over to their zombie instincts. Given their peculiar nature, scientists believe they may be the key to a cure, so they keep them around, occasionally grabbing one to kill and use for experiments.
This setup, of course, doesn’t last long, and most of the film follows a small rag-tag group of survivors as they travel to hopeful safety using Melanie’s talents (since zombies ignore her, she can safely scout ahead, for instance) while also keeping her at a safe distance. Their journey is full of dangers and drama, but the real beauty here is the world-building. The film keeps dropping interesting new details about the zombies and how they work biologically that keep things fresh and fun, even at its most dour (and it is pretty dour).
The Girl With All the Gifts is a great addition to the horror genre, the kind of thing we should feel lucky people are still making. You should definitely check it out when it hits limited theaters and On Demand February 24.