An uncommonly smart and visceral entry into a wildly over-engorged genre, this adaptation of M.R. Carey’s 2014 novel earmarks director Colm McCarthy as a sure filmmaker to watch.
A fungal disease has whittled humanity’s population down, but a small number of the zombies (referred to as “hungries”) still retain their usual thoughts and feelings alongside an insatiable hunger. In the hope of synthesising a cure, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) experiments on a group of hybrid children, investing most of her hope in a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), to the protest of her teacher, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who views Melanie as more than a mere key to mankind’s survival.
Though it might not be a startlingly original shot in the arm as far as the zombie movies goes, it does inject more than enough of its own ideas into the familiar premise to make this a surprisingly diverting, thinking-person’s zombie film. It’s easy to take a look at the brutal violence – shot with long takes and some of the best use of CGI gore in recent memory – and expect that everyone here, especially Glenn Close, is just here for a quick genre flick payday. Then the film actually happens.
Carey, who adapted his own novel to the screen here, doubles down on the quartet of characters who largely comprise the movie – the fourth being Paddy Considine’s stern-but-justifiably-so Sgt. Eddie Parks – and gives them all extremely plausible motives for their actions throughout, naturally rooted by self-preservation above all else. Avoiding the temptation to get cutesy and build an unconventional nuclear family of these four people, Carey and McCarthy instead use the zombie apocalypse miasma to revel in the ambiguity and shifting moral perspectives that such a scenario would invite.
Along with the frequently tense drama, action sequences are plentiful and superbly shot, evoking the very same nervous energy that Danny Boyle revitalised the genre with in his 28 Days Later. Performances are also terrific across the board here, especially the young Nanua and Close, the latter of whom plays rather against-type in a deliciously ripe role.
There’s a lot to be said for a sturdy genre effort that doesn’t venture too far outside the established rules but nevertheless plays by them exceptionally well. It’s likely to disappear from cinemas without much of a trace, but expect it to be hailed as a cult classic in the years to come.
The Girl with All the Gifts is in UK cinemas now