TIFF 2016 Review: The Girl with All the Gifts
It seems like a cruel joke that, ever since Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead pushed zombies into the mainstream, the subgenre of the undead just can’t seem to die. Adapted from Mike Carey’s 2014 novel by Carey himself, The Girl with All the Gifts is really just a hodgepodge of zombie thrillers we’ve seen over the years. It takes place in a world where a disease has turned the population into fast-moving, 28 Days Later-esque flesh-eaters, and the only humans left try to find a cure. At an army base in England, scientist Caroline (Glenn Close, the only cast member who appears to be having fun) studies children who have some sort of hybrid form of the disease; they act normal, but the slightest scent of human flesh can trigger their zombie urges. One of the kids, Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), shows the best potential for creating a vaccine for the disease, and Caroline intends to cut her up so she can make a cure. But when a group of zombies take over the base, Caroline and Melanie have to evacuate with several other people: Melanie’s sympathetic teacher Helen (Gemma Arterton), sergeant with a heart of gold Eddie (Paddy Considine), and rookie soldier/future cadaver Dillon (Anthony Welsh).
The five survivors travel across the country to get to another army base, despite the hordes of zombies, or “hungries” as the characters call them (for some reason, even mentioning the word zombie in a zombie film or TV show has become a faux pas), chasing them down every step of the way. The best thing about The Girl with All the Gifts is that, no matter how derivative it is, it’s definitely watchable. Both Carey and director Colm McCarthy have experience in television, and the economical approach to both story and visuals makes the film feel like a TV movie, a comparison that would have been derogatory over a decade ago. Now the distinction isn’t as strong, but a film like this highlights the hurdles the small-screen format still have to clear, like a slavish dedication to exposition and writing that trumps artistry. Still, The Girl with All the Gifts provides a passably entertaining experience with the help of its strong cast and its final act riff on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Zombie fans will find familiar pleasures throughout, whereas those who’d prefer the undead to stay dead should find another way to pass their time.