First of all, I have to say how cool it is that Glenn Close is in a horror movie! She’s flirted with genre fare before in Guardians of the Galaxy and Warcraft (uncredited though she may be). However, in The Girl with All the Gifts, I won’t soon forget the insane image of the six-time Oscar nominee stabbing the hell out of a zombie with a piece of broken glass. She didn’t take this job for the paycheck; she’s just one component of a top-notch production all the way around.
Written by Mike Carey and based on his novel, the movie is directed with both wild energy and exercised restraint by Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders, series two.) Similar to Train to Busan with its social relevance (and infected antagonists), The Girl with All the Gifts is a more hard-core science fiction story that chooses to ponder its implications instead of evolving into an action-packed thriller. However, I really don’t know which movie I enjoyed more.
The movie opens with an intriguing mystery. For some reason, a group of children are held in individual cells at night, then removed to attend classes during the day… restrained in wheel chairs with their arms and heads held immobile. One girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is special; we won’t learn why for quite some time. Sooner, we learn more about the environment. It’s a future, dystopian world where zombies run wild.
These are not the undead; they’re infected. Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Close) leads a team actually trying to develop an antidote. That’s something we don’t often see in movies of the kind and it’s something that adds another entire level to the story. What are the moral implications for sacrificing survivors in order to find a cure? Is it “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” or is it, “no, you can’t remove the brain and spine of a child, no matter what?”
Close is treated as the villain of the piece, but is that really who she is? Most other characters, including Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), are ambiguous at best. It’s hard to identify human nature when the end of the world draws nigh. The one certain “good girl” is Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who’s willing to defend Melanie at all costs. Well, Melanie is good too, of course; she’s the one with whom we are expected to sympathize.
And sympathize we do. Nanua is terrific in the role, a remarkable talent. She can play sweet and innocent as well as… uh, the opposite? Whatever the outcome of their mobile fight to survive following disaster at the “compound,” we’re meant to root for Melanie. This fact makes the conclusion of The Girl with All the Gifts more impactful and thought-provoking, because maybe our own sense of what’s right and wrong is just as ambiguous as its characters’.