Horror films these days generally too often fall into one of two categories – zombies or found footage. And woe to those who combine the two, since they're almost always dumpster fires from the get-go. It's when a sleeper film like The Girl With All The Gifts can drop out of nowhere and restore your faith in the genre.
Written by DC and Marvel Comics writer Mike Carey, Gifts opens up set on a heavily fortified army base, with a collection of orange-suited children being treated as Hannibal Lecter-level prisoners. Being transported in wheelchairs from cell to classroom, it's a strange disconnect from the children's behavior as they're all extraordinarily polite and well mannered. When their teacher, Helen Justineau (played by Gemma Arterton) touches strokes one of the children's hair, one of the guards storm in and displays the reason for the care taken with the children – whenever they get too close to another person, they lose all control and for a time wildly seek to eat the faces off of anything they can get ahold of. It turns out that the children have been born of already-infected mothers, leaving them with a human intellect, but still with the uncontrollable drive of a zombie. The base's medical team, led by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close in a rare horror role), is trying to develop a vaccine to cure or suppress the disease.
The base is overrun by hungries (the film's term for zombies), and hybrid Melanie (played brilliantly by newcomer Sennia Nanua), along with Helen and Caroline and some of the base's troops are forced to make a run for it in search of another base with the right equipment to be able to continue the research.
This time around zombies aren't of the walker variety, they are very much cut from the 28 Days Later vein of full-speed, full-strength brain-eaters. The production is well crafted, with generally good effects, and strong performances from everyone from Nanua to Close. While some of the beats do fall into the traditional zombie mold: looking for a cure, a quest for a expected safe haven, the story also just as quickly pivots into some new directions.
Gifts is only director Colm McCarthy's second feature, but has had a number of TV credits (Injustice, Murphy's Law) but it gives some promising hope that Syfy's Superman prequel series, Krypton, will be in good hands.
Gifts is currently available for streaming on DirecTV.
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