With the continued popularity of the Walking Dead, there’s been no lack of zombie films and television shows over the last few years. Unfortunately they’re typically incredibly lackluster, with most just running variations of a handful of well-worn story themes. Sometimes there’s just ones that are exceptionally exciting like Train to Busan, but most are just your basic run and gun. In a recent screening of the film adaptation of author Mike Carey’s young adult novel, Girl with All the Gifts, it reaffirmed that there are some variations on the story left to be told.
Don’t let the idea that coming from a young adult source at all dampens the threat or violence of the zombies (here they’re called hungries). The story opens many years after a fungal breakout which causes those infected to turn into fast-running flesh-hungry eating machines. Most of the remaining population has retreated into small safe zones and protected by the military. Strangely we see a cluster of elementary school children are imprisoned and being transported with great care (completely with arm, leg, and head restraints). The kids are models of polite attentiveness and reply to questions posed by the teacher. Only after a guard sees the teacher petting one of the children with affection as they read over one of their essays he strips down his sleeve to demonstrate the danger of getting too close to the children. On the scent of human flesh too close, their jaws all but unhinge and they start to have a seizure and turn from the polite schoolchildren to a hungry. They are post-infection exposure children. Somehow they manifest both human intellect as well as can be triggered into being one of the zombies.
They are being kept around to be examined and studied by the base scientists, led by Glenn Close as Caroline Caldwell. The characters are all atypically well crafted for a zombie flick, there’s depth and history to most of them, without devolving into a talking head film. Questions of morality and humanity arise, but challenged by the fact that the world is already all but lost.
Ever since 28 Days Later, the UK has had pretty effective lock on the best zombie movie of the modern era, adding in Shawn of the Dead to make sure they had the dark comedy angle as well. Then along comes Train to Busan to try to claim the runner-zombie high-tension crown. It’s not likely that Girl with All the Gifts takes that prize, however it probably does now hold the winner for one of the smartest and well characterized films of the genre.
If you want a solid zombie film that offers something more to think about than just watching someone’s face getting eaten off, this one’s for you.
Girl with All the Gifts is directed by Colm McCarthy and stars Gemma Arterton as Helen Justineau, Glenn Close as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, Paddy Considine as Sgt. Eddie Parks, Dominique Tipper as Devani, Sennia Nanua as Melanie, and Anamaria Marinca as Dr. Selkirk.
It is currently screening at regional festivals and will be opening in the US in January.
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